When May I Ask a Non-Jew for Help on Shabbos?

Each of the following questions is an actual situation about which I was asked:

Question #1: My car needs repair work, and the most convenient time to drop it off at Angelo’s Service Station is Friday afternoon. May I bring Angelo the car then, knowing that he is going to repair it on Shabbos?

Question #2: A gala Shabbos sheva brachos is being held at an apartment several flights of stairs below street level, a very common situation in hilly Yerushalayim. The kallah’s elderly grandmother arrived before Shabbos by elevator, intending to return home by using the Shabbos elevator (a subject I hope to discuss at a different time iy’H). Indeed, the building’s elevator actually has a Shabbos setting, but we discover on Shabbos that the Shabbos setting is not working. How does Bubby get home?

Question #3: My friend lives in a neighborhood that does not have an eruv. She arranges before Shabbos for a non-Jew to push the baby carriage on Shabbos. May she do this?

Question #4: “If this contract does not arrive at its destination ASAP, I could suffer huge losses. May I mail it as an express mail package on Friday?”

Question #5: “If a registered letter arrives on Shabbos, may I ask the letter carrier to sign for me?”

Many people are under the mistaken impression that one may ask a non-Jew to do any prohibited activity on Shabbos. This is not accurate. I know of many instances in which someone asked a non-Jew to do work in situations in which making such a request is prohibited. Our Sages prohibited asking a non-Jew to work for us on Shabbos out of concern that this diminishes our sensitivity to doing melacha ourselves (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 6:1). Also, Chazal considered the non-Jew to be my agent — thus, if he works for me on Shabbos, it is considered that I worked on Shabbos through a hired agent (Rashi, Shabbos 153a s.v. mai taama).

By the way, the halachos of amira lenochri, asking a non-Jew to perform a prohibited activity, are not restricted to the laws of Shabbos, but apply to all mitzvos of the Torah. Thus, it is prohibited to have a non-Jew muzzle your animal while it works (see Bava Metzia 90a; Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 338:6), ask him to graft fruit trees, nor  ask a non-Jew to do prohibited work on Chol Hamoed (Moed Katan 12a).

There are many complicated details governing when I may ask a non-Jew to do something on Shabbos and when I may not. These are some of the factors that one must consider:

A. Is the non-Jew my employee or is he an “independent contractor”?

B. What type of benefit do I receive from his work?

C. Did I ask the non-Jew directly or indirectly?

D. If a Jew were to perform the work, would it be prohibited min haTorah or only miderabbanan?

E. Why do I want him to do this work?

F. Could I do the work myself, albeit in a different way from how the non-Jew is likely to do it?

To show how these details affect a practical case, I will analyze the halachic issues involved in each of our cases mentioned above, starting with our first case — leaving the car over Shabbos at a non-Jewish mechanic. The important detail here is that I did not ask the non-Jew to do the work on Shabbos – it is prohibited to do so. Instead, I brought him the car and allowed him to decide whether to do the work on Shabbos. Is he now my agent if he works on Shabbos?

AGENT VERSUS CONTRACTOR

There is a halachic difference whether the non-Jew is working as my agent (or employee) or whether he is an independent contractor who makes his own decisions. If he is my agent, I may not allow him to do prohibited activity on Shabbos. However, if he is an independent contractor, under certain circumstances, I am not responsible if he actually does the work on Shabbos.

When is the non-Jew considered a contractor? If the non-Jew decides on his own when to do the work and I hired him by the job, he is a contractor. In these cases, I may give him work that he might decide to perform on Shabbos, provided that he could do the work on a different day and that he does the work on his own premises. (Under certain circumstances, the last condition is waived.)

What are examples of contractors? The mailman, the repairman who repairs items on his own premises, and the dry cleaner are all contractors. On the other hand, a regular employee whom I ask to do work on Shabbos is not a contractor unless I pay him extra for this job.

Thus, I may drop off my car at the auto mechanic before Shabbos and leave it over Shabbos, provided I allow him time to do the work when it is not Shabbos, either on Friday afternoon or Motza’ei Shabbos. Even though I know that the non-Jewish mechanic will not be working Saturday night and will actually do the work on Shabbos, I need not be concerned, since he could choose to do the work after Shabbos.

However, dropping off my car before Shabbos is permitted only when:

(1) He does the work on his own premises.

(2) He is paid a fee for the completed job.

(3) He decides whether or not he does the work on Shabbos. (It should be noted that some poskim prohibit doing this when the mechanic is closed Motza’ei Shabbos. Since I know that he is closed Motza’ei Shabbos, they consider it asking him to do the work on Shabbos, which is prohibited.)

In a similar way, I could bring dry cleaning in on Friday afternoon expecting to pick up the cleaned clothes Saturday night, provided enough time exists to clean the clothes before or after Shabbos.

We will now explore our second question:

An elderly woman cannot ascend the several flights of stairs necessary to get to street level. The building has a Shabbos elevator, but we discover on Shabbos that the Shabbos setting is not working. How does Bubby get home? Can we have a non-Jew operate the elevator to get her home?

Before answering this question, I want to share with you another story:

A DARK SIMCHAS TORAH SHABBOS

The following story occurred on a Simchas Torah in Yerushalayim that fell on Shabbos. (Although Simchas Torah outside Eretz Yisroel cannot occur on Shabbos, Shmini Atzeres, which can fall on Shabbos, is observed in Eretz Yisroel as Simchas Torah.) Just as the hakafos were beginning, the power in the shul went out, plunging the entire shul into darkness. The shul’s emergency lights went on, leaving the shul dimly lit — sufficient for people to exit safely and to dance in honor of Simchas Torah, but certainly making it more difficult to observe the usual Simchas Torah celebrations. The rav of the shul ruled that they could not ask a non-Jew to turn on the lights.

If any element of danger had been involved, one could certainly have asked a non-Jew to turn on the lights. But the rav felt that the situation was not dangerous, and therefore maintained that one may not ask a non-Jew to turn on the lights.

One of the congregants suggested a way to illuminate the shul. The same idea could get Bubby home! Before presenting his idea, I need to explain two concepts:

BENEFITING FROM A NON-JEW’S ACTION

If a non-Jew does melacha on Shabbos for his own benefit, a Jew may use the results. For example, if a non-Jew builds a ramp to disembark from a boat on Shabbos, a Jew may now exit the boat via the same ramp, since the non-Jew did no additional work in order to benefit the Jew. Similarly, if a non-Jew kindled a light so that he can read, a Jew may now use the light. One may use the light even if the non-Jew and the Jew know one another (Mishnah Shabbos 122a; Rambam 6:2; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 325:11).

However, if the non-Jew gathered grass to feed his animals, the Jew cannot let his animals eat the leftover grass if the two people know one another. This is so that the non-Jew will not in the future come to do melacha for the sake of the Jew (Shabbos 122a).

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE RAMP AND THE GRASS?

Why are these cases halachically different? Why may the Jew use the light or the ramp, but may not allow his animal to eat the grass?

In the first cases, no additional work is necessary for the non-Jew to provide a ramp or light for the Jew. Once the non-Jew has built the ramp or kindled the light, any number of people can benefit from them without any additional melacha. However, cutting each blade of grass is a separate melacha activity. Thus, allowing one’s animal to eat this grass might tempt the non-Jew to cut additional grass for the Jew’s animal, which we must avoid.

So far, we have calculated that if we can figure out how to get the non-Jew to turn on the light for his own benefit, one may use the light. Thus, we might be able to turn lights on in the shul for Shabbos, or have a non-Jew ride the elevator up to the main floor and hopefully have Bubby in the elevator at the same time. However, how does one get the non-Jew to turn on the light or the elevator for his own benefit when one may not ask him to do any work on Shabbos?

HINTING

May I hint to a non-Jew that I would like him to perform a prohibited activity on Shabbos? The poskim dispute this issue. Some rule that this is prohibited (Tur Orach Chayim 307), whereas others permit it (Bach, Orach Chayim 307 s.v. uma shekasav rabbeinu). Thus, according to the second opinion, one may ask a non-Jew on Shabbos, “Why didn’t you accompany Bubby on the elevator last Shabbos?” even though he clearly understands that you are asking him to take the elevator with her today. According to the first opinion, one may not do this, nor may one ask a non-Jew to clean up something in a dark room, since to do so he must turn on the light.

However, the majority of poskim accept an intermediate position, contending that, although one may not hint to a non-Jew on Shabbos, one may hint to him on a weekday (Smag). Thus one may ask him on Friday, “Why didn’t you do this last Shabbos? but one may not ask him this on Shabbos (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 307:2; Rema Orach Chayim 307:22). According to this last ruling, one could tell the non-Jew during the week, “Why did you leave Bubby downstairs without taking her up in the elevator?” but one could not mention this to him on Shabbos.

PERMITTED HINTING VERSUS PROHIBITED HINTING

However, the poskim agree that one may tell a non-Jewish mailman on Shabbos, “I cannot read this letter until it is open.” What is the difference between the two types of hinting?

The difference is that the forbidden type of hinting implies either a command or a rebuke, whereas the permitted type does not (Magen Avraham 307:31). Telling a non-Jew to clean something up in a dark room on Shabbos is, in essence, commanding him to perform a prohibited activity — turning on the light. Similarly, when you rebuke him for not doing something last Shabbos, you are basically commanding him to do it the next Shabbos. However, one may make a statement of fact that is neither a command nor a rebuke. Therefore telling the non-Jew, “I cannot read this letter unless it is open” does not command him to do anything, and for this reason it is permitted.

However, if the non-Jew then asks me, “Would you like me to open the letter for you?” I may not answer “Yes,” since this is itself a command. (It is as if you said, “Yes, I would like you to open the letter for me.”) I may tell him, “That’s not a bad idea,” or “I have no objections to your opening the letter,” which does not directly ask him. I may even say, “I am not permitted to ask you to open it on my Sabbath.”

How does this discussion affect our dark Simchas Torah or getting Bubby home?

The congregant suggested the following: One could create a situation whereby turning on the light is beneficial for the non-Jew, and then hint to him that if he wants to, he could benefit by turning the light on. One may do this because the non-Jew is turning on the light for his own use, and the Jew did not ask him directly to turn on the light. Thus, if you placed a bottle of whiskey or a gift of chocolate in the shul, and then notified the non-Jew that the bottle or chocolate is waiting for him there, you can show him how to turn on the lights so that he can find his present. This is permitted because the non-Jew is turning on the lights for his own benefit, and you did not ask him, nor even hint to him that you want him to turn on the lights. You simply notified him that if he wants to put on the lights, he could find himself a very nice present.

The same solution may help Bubby return home. Someone may invite a non-Jew to the sheva brachos, and then told him that a present awaits him in the building’s entrance foyer. Does it bother him if Bubby shares the elevator with him while he goes to retrieve his present?

A word of caution: If one uses this approach, one must be careful that the non-Jew is indeed doing the melacha for his own purposes, such as to get the present as mentioned above. However, one may not ask the non-Jew to accompany you on a tour of the dark shul, and then he turns on the light to see his way. This is prohibited because the non-Jew is interested in the light only in order to accompany you on the walk, not because he gains anything (see Shulchan Aruch 276:3).

We will continue this topic next week…

As I mentioned above, the Rambam explains the reason that Chazal prohibited asking a non-Jew to do work on Shabbos is so that we do not diminish sensitivity to doing melacha ourselves. Refraining from having even a non-Jew work for me on Shabbos shows even deeper testimony to my conviction that Hashem created the world.

The Kosher Way to Collect a Loan

Although it is a very big mitzvah to lend money, some people are reluctant to do so because they know of loans that proved difficult to collect. Must you lend someone money if you are not sure it will ever be repaid? What do you do if you lent money to someone who seemed very honest and sincere, but now that it comes time to repay, he informs you that he is penniless? What may you do and what may you not do to collect your money? How can you guarantee that you get your money back?

Our goal this week is to address these questions.

THE MITZVAH OF LENDING MONEY

The Torah requires us to lend money to a poor Jew who needs it (Rambam, Hilchos Malveh 1:1). This is stated in the pasuk, “Im kesef talveh es ami, es he’ani imach – When you lend money to My people, to the poor person among you” (Shemos 22:24). Chazal explain that the word “Im” in this pasuk should not be translated as “If,” which implies that it is optional, but as a commandment, “When you lend…” (Mechilta). Poskim even discuss whether we recite a bracha on this mitzvah, just as we recite one on tefillin, mezuzah and other mitzvos (Shu”t HaRashba #18). Although the halacha is that we do not recite a bracha, the question itself shows us the importance of the mitzvah of lending money.

It is a greater mitzvah to lend someone money, which maintains his self-dignity, than it is to give him tzedakah, which is demeaning (Rambam, Hilchos Malveh 1:1). There is a special bracha from Hashem to people who lend money to the poor.

I should not become upset if a poor person returns to borrow money from me shortly after repaying a previous loan. My attitude should be similar to a storekeeper: “Do I become angry with a repeat customer? Do I feel that he is constantly bothering me?” Similarly, one should not turn people away without a loan, but rather view it as a new opportunity to perform a mitzvah and to receive additional brachos (Ahavas Chesed 1:7).

One should also lend money to wealthy people who need a loan, but this is not as great a mitzvah as lending to the poor.

Someone with limited available funds and has requests for loans from family members and non-family members, and cannot lend to both, should lend to family members. Similarly, if he must choose to whom to lend, he should lend to a closer family member rather than to a more distant one.

By the way, one may lend money to a poor person with the understanding that if the borrower defaults, the lender will subtract the sum from his tzedakahmaaser calculation (Pischei Choshen, Volume 1, p. 4).

WHAT IF I KNOW THE BORROWER IS A DEADBEAT?

I am not required to lend money if I know that the borrower squanders money and does not repay (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 97:4). It is better not to lend if I know that the borrower will squander the money and probably not pay it back.

THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE BORROWER

Someone who borrows money must make sure to pay it back. One may not borrow money that he does not think he will be able to repay. A person who squanders money and therefore does not repay his loans is called a rasha (Rambam, Hilchos Malveh 1:3).

The borrower is required to pay his loans on time. If his loan is due and he cannot pay them, he is required to use his household items, if necessary, to pay his debt (Nesivos 86:2; Graz, Hilchos Halvaah 1:5). Similarly, he may not make significant contributions to tzedakah (Sefer Chassidim #454). He may not purchase a lulav and esrog if he owes money that is due; instead, he should borrow someone else’s (see Pischei Teshuvah, Choshen Mishpat 97:8). He must use whatever money he has available to pay his debts.

It is strictly forbidden to pretend that he does not have money to pay his debts or even to delay paying them if he does have the money, and it is similarly forbidden for him to hide money so that the lender cannot collect. All this is true even if the lender is very wealthy.

COLLECTING BAD DEBTS

Most people who borrow are careful to repay their debts and do so on time. However, it happens occasionally that someone who intended to pay back on time is faced with circumstances that make it difficult for him to repay.

There is a prohibition in the Torah, “Lo siheyeh lo k’nosheh – Do not behave to him like a creditor” (Shemos 22:24). Included in this prohibition is that it is forbidden to demand payment from a Jew when I know that he cannot pay (Rambam, Hilchos Malveh 1:2). The lender may not even stand in front of the borrower in a way that might embarrass or intimidate him (Gemara Bava Metzia 75b; Rambam, Hilchos Malveh 1:3).

However, if the lender knows that the borrower has resources that he does not want to sell, such as his house, his car, or his furniture, he may hassle the borrower since the borrower is halachically required to sell these properties in order to pay his loan. (See Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 97:23 for a list of which items he must sell to pay his debt.) Furthermore, the lender may sue in beis din for the right to collect these items as payment.

(Technically, it is not the borrower’s responsibility to sell the items and bring the cash to the lender; he may give the items to the lender as payment. The lender must then get a beis din or a panel of three experts to evaluate the property he has received. If he needs to hire experts to make the evaluation, the expenses are added to the debt. Of course, the lender and borrower can agree to whatever terms are mutually acceptable without involving expert evaluation, provided that no ribbis [interest] prohibition is created. The vast subject of ribbis is beyond the scope of this article.)

The borrower is in a very unenviable position. He owes money that he would like to pay, but he is overwhelmed with expenses and he simply does not earn enough money to pay all his creditors. He knows he could sell his house or his furniture to pay up, but he really does not want to do that to his family. He should try to appease the lender in whatever way he can (for example, by asking for an extension) and he should certainly try to find other sources of income and figure out how to trim his expenses. But he should realize that he is obligated even to sell his household goods to pay his creditors. Someone who uses his money to purchase items that are not absolutely essential instead of paying back money that is overdue demonstrates a lack of understanding of the Torah’s priorities.

The lender may not enter the borrower’s house to seize collateral or payment. Some poskim contend that the lender may seize property that is not in the borrower’s house or on his person (see Pischei Choshen, Vol. 1, pg. 96). Furthermore, there are poskim who rule that if the borrower has the means to pay but isn’t paying, the lender may enter the borrower’s house and take whatever he can (Shu”t Imrei Binah, Dinei Geviyas Chov chapter 2; Pischei Choshen, Vol. 1, p. 100). One should not rely on this approach without first asking a shaylah.

If the borrower claims that he has absolutely nothing to pay with, the beis din can require him to swear an oath to that effect (Rambam, Hilchos Malveh 2:2).

A lender who feels that the borrower is hiding money or property may not take the law into his own hands to collect, but may file a claim in beis din. If the lender feels that the borrower will not submit to beis din’s authority, he should ask the beis din for authorization to sue in secular courts – but it is forbidden for him to sue in a secular court without first receiving halachic approval.

HOW CAN I GUARANTEE THAT I GET MY MONEY BACK?

As most of us have no doubt experienced at one time or another, it is not pleasant to be owed money that is not repaid. The lender is entitled to be repaid.

Is there a way that I can lend money and guarantee that I get in back?

First of all, the lender must make sure that he can prove the loan took place. This is actually a halacha; it is forbidden to lend money without witnesses or other proof because of concern that this may cause the borrower to sin by denying that the loan exists (Bava Metzia 75b).

All of this is protection only against a borrower denying that he borrowed, which is fortunately a rare occurrence. What we want to explore is ways that the lender can fulfill his mitzvah of lending to a needy person while making sure that the loan does not become permanent.

CO-SIGNERS

The most common method used to guarantee the repayment of a loan is by having someone with reliable finances and reputation co-sign for the loan. In halacha, this person is called an areiv. In common practice, if the borrower defaults, the lender notifies the co-signer that he intends to collect the debt. Usually what happens is that when the lender calls the co-signer, suddenly the borrower shows up at the door with the money.

There are several types of areiv recognized by halacha. The most common type, a standard co-signer, is obligated to pay back the debt, but only after one has attempted to collect from the borrower. If the borrower does not pay because he has no cash, but he has property, the areiv can legitimately claim that he is not responsible to pay. The lender would need to summon the borrower and the areiv to beis din in order to begin payment procedures. Most people who lend money prefer to avoid the tediousness this involves.

One can avoid some of this problem by having the co-signer sign as an areiv kablan. This is a stronger type of co-signing, whereby the lender has the right to make the claim against the co-signer without suing the borrower first.

The primary difficulty with this approach is that it might make it difficult for the borrower to receive his loan, since many potential co-signers do not want to commit themselves to be an areiv kablan.

ANOTHER APPROACH

Is there another possibility whereby one can still provide the chesed to the potential borrower and yet guarantee that the money returns?

Indeed there is. The Chofetz Chayim (Ahavas Chesed 1:8) suggests that if you are concerned that the proposed borrower may default, you can insist on receiving collateral – a mashkon to guarantee payment.

Having a loan collateralized is a fairly secure way of guaranteeing that the loan is repaid, but it is not totally hassle-free. There are three drawbacks that might result from using a mashkon to guarantee the repayment of the loan. They are:

1. Responsibility for the mashkon.

2. Evaluation of the mashkon.

3. Converting the mashkon into cash.

1. Responsibility for the mashkon.

When the lender receives the mashkon, he becomes responsible to take care of it. If it is lost or stolen, the value of the collateral will be subtracted from the loan (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 72:2). If the collateral is worth more than the loan, the lender might be required to compensate the borrower for the difference. (See dispute between Shulchan Aruch and Rama, ibid.) However, the creditor is not responsible for the mashkon if it is lost or damaged because of something that halacha considers beyond his responsibility.

2. Evaluation of the mashkon.

When keeping the collateral to collect the debt, the mashkon must either be evaluated by a panel of three experts before it can be sold (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 73:15 and Ketzos), or must be sold with the involvement of beis din (Shach), to protect the borrower’s rights. Some creditors find this step tedious.

However, there are methods whereby one can use a mashkon to guarantee a loan and avoid having the mashkon evaluated afterward.

When arranging the loan, the lender tells the borrower of the following condition: If the loan is not paid when due, the buyer agrees to rely on the lender’s evaluation of its worth (Pischei Choshen, Vol. 1, pg. 145).

An alternative is for the lender to tell the borrower: If you do not pay by the day the loan is due, then retroactively this is not a loan but a sale. At that point, the collateral becomes mine in exchange for the value of the loan. This is permitted even if the mashkon is worth far more than the loan, and does not involve any violation of ribbis (prohibited charging of interest), since, retroactively, a sale took place rather than a loan (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 73:17).

3. Converting the mashkon into cash.

PROPER ATTITUDE TOWARD THE MITZVAH

At times, lenders have asked me for a method whereby they can be certain to get their money back, and I have suggested the collateral method. Sometimes I receive the following response: I don’t want to be bothered with selling the mashkon to get my money back. If I think the borrower is a risk, then I would rather not lend to him.

Do we have the same attitude toward other mitzvos we perform? Do we say that we want to perform mitzvos only when they are without complications? Certainly not! However, the yetzer hora convinces us that lending money is a good deed that I need to perform only when it is convenient and when I feel like being benevolent, not when it is going to result in a hassle.

SHLEMIEL, THE BORROWER

Nachman once came to me with the following shaylah:

Shlemiel used to borrow money from Nachman regularly, and although Shlemiel always repaid the loan, he often did so long after the due date. Nachman wanted to know what he could do about this situation. He wanted to perform the tremendous mitzvah of lending money, but he wanted his money back in a reasonable time.

I suggested to Nachman that he tell Shlemiel that the loan was available, but only if Shlemiel produced a mashkon and agreed to the above conditions. Since my suggestion, Nachman has been zocheh to fulfill the mitzvah of lending money to Shlemiel many times, and not once has a repayment been late! Think of how many brochos Nachman has received from Hashem because he is willing to subject himself to the “hassle” of transporting the mashkon to a secure place and being willing to sell it should the need arise!

Why do people view loaning money as an optional “good deed” rather than as a commandment? The Chofetz Chayim (Ahavas Chesed 2:8) raises this question and mentions several excuses people make to avoid lending money. After listing these reasons, the Chofetz Chayim proceeds to refute each one of them. Simply put, the answer to this question is the old Yiddish expression, “Ven es kumt tzu gelt, iz an andere velt – When people deal with their money, they tend to act totally differently.” Truthfully, people find it difficult to part with their money, even temporarily. This is precisely why one receives such immense reward for lending. As Chazal teach us, “lefum tzaara agra – the reward is commensurate to the difficulties involved.”

How Does Someone Convert to Judaism?

When our ancestors accepted responsibility to observe the Torah, they did so by performing bris milah, immersing in a mikveh, and offering a korban. In the same way, a non-Jew who chooses to join the Jewish people is entering the same covenant and must follow a similar procedure (Kerisus 9a).

The privilege of becoming a geir tzedek comes with very exact and exacting guidelines. On a technical level, the geir is accepting responsibility to perform mitzvos. Through the geirus procedure, he creates an obligation upon himself to observe mitzvos (Birchas Shmuel, Kiddushin #15).

DEFINITION OF A JEW

To the non-Jewish or non-observant world, the definition of a Jew is based on sociological criteria. But to the Torah Jew, the definition of a Jew is someone who is a member of a people who are obligated to fulfill all of the Torah’s commandments. For this reason, it is axiomatic that no one can become Jewish without first accepting the responsibility to observe mitzvos (kabbalas mitzvos). This concept, so obvious to the Torah Jew, is almost never appreciated by the non-observant. Someone who does not (yet) observe mitzvos himself usually does not appreciate why observing mitzvos is imperative to becoming Jewish. This is why a not-yet-observant Jew often finds our requirements for giyur to be “unrealistic” or even “intolerant.” However, in reality, attempting to bend the Torah’s rules reflects intolerance, or, more exactly, a lack of understanding. The Torah Jew realizes that the basic requirement for becoming a Jew is accepting Hashem’s commandments, since a Jew is, by definition, someone who is committed to leading his life in its every detail according to the laws of the Torah.

DISCOURAGE CONVERTS

As we all know, when someone requests to be converted to Judaism, we discourage him. As the Gemara (Yevamos 47a) says, if a potential convert comes, we ask him, “Why do you want to convert? Don’t you know that Jews are persecuted and dishonored? Constant suffering is their lot! Why do you want to join such a people?”

Why do we discourage a sincere non-Jew from joining Jewish ranks? Shouldn’t we encourage someone to undertake such a noble endeavor?

The reason is that, even if the potential convert is sincerely motivated, we still want to ascertain that he or she can persevere to keep the mitzvos, even under adversity. Although we can never be certain what the future will bring, by making the path to conversion difficult, we are helping the potential convert who might later regret his conversion, when the going gets rough. Because of this rationale, some batei din deliberately make it difficult for a potential convert, as a method of discouraging him. As the Gemara explains, we tell him, “Until now you received no punishment if you did not keep kosher. There was no punishment if you failed to observe Shabbos. If you become Jewish, you will receive very severe punishments for not keeping kosher or Shabbos!” (Yevamos 47a)

I have used a different method of discouragement, by informing potential converts of the seven mitzvos bnei Noach. In so doing, I point out that they can merit olam haba without becoming obligated to keep all the Torah’s mitzvos. In this way, I hope to make them responsible, moral non-Jews, without their becoming Jewish.

I once met a woman who was enthusiastically interested in becoming Jewish. Although she was living in a town with no Jewish community – she was keeping a kosher home!

After I explained the mitzvos of bnei Noach to her, she insisted that this was not enough for her. She wanted to be fully Jewish.

Because of her enthusiasm, I expected to hear from her again. I was wrong. Perhaps her tremendous enthusiasm petered out. Alternatively, and more likely, she found a different way to consider herself Jewish, either on the basis of her grandfather’s Judaism, or a “conversion” that was more “flexible.”

Had we accepted her for conversion immediately, she would have become a sinning Jew, instead of a very observant non-Jew, which is what she is now. These are the exact issues that Chazal were concerned about. Therefore, they told us to make it difficult for someone to become Jewish, to see whether his or her commitment survives adversity. It was better that this woman’s enthusiasm waned before she became Jewish than after she became Jewish and had no way out.

The following story from my personal experience is unfortunately very common. A gentile woman, eager to marry an observant Jewish man, agreed to fulfill all the mitzvos as a requirement for her conversion. (As we will point out shortly, this is not a recommended procedure.) Although she seemed initially very excited about observing mitzvos, with time she began to lose interest. In the end, she gave up observance completely. The unfortunate result is that she is now a chotei Yisrael (a Jew who sins).

MOTIVATION FOR CONVERTING

We must ascertain that the proposed convert wants to become Jewish for the correct reasons. If we discern or suspect that there is an ulterior reason to convert, we do not accept the potential convert, even if he is committed to observing all the mitzvos.

For this reason, converts are not accepted at times when there is political, financial, or social gain in being Jewish. For example, no converts were accepted in the days of Mordechai and Esther, nor in the times of Dovid and Shelomoh, nor will geirim be accepted in the era of the Moshiach. During such times, we suspect that the convert is somewhat motivated by the financial or political advantages in being Jewish (Yevamos 24b). This applies even if we are certain that he will observe all the mitzvos.

Despite this rule, unlearned Jews created “batei din” during the reign of Dovid HaMelech and accepted converts against the wishes of the beis din hagadol (Rambam, Hilchos Issurei Bi’ah 13:15). There is much literature on whether these geirim are accepted, but, if indeed their conversion was sincere and afterward it is obvious that this is true, they will be accepted.

The Rambam explains that the “non-Jewish” wives that Shlomoh married were really insincere converts. In his words, “In the days of Shlomoh, converts were not accepted by the official batei din…however, Shlomoh converted women and married them…and it was known that they converted for ulterior reasons and not through the official batei din. For this reason, the pasuk refers to them as non-Jews…furthermore, the end bears out that they worshipped idols and built altars to them” (Rambam, Hilchos Issurei Bi’ah 13:15-16).

Because of this rule, we do not accept someone who is converting because he or she wants to marry someone who is Jewish, even if the convert is absolutely willing to observe all the mitzvos (Yevamos 24b). I have seen numerous instances of non-Jews who converted primarily for marriage and who agreed to keep all the mitzvos at the time of the conversion. Even in the instances where mitzvos were indeed observed initially, I have seen very few situations where mitzvos were still being observed a few years (or even months) later.

GEIRUS WITH IMPROPER MOTIVATION

What is the halachic status of someone who went through the geirus process for the wrong reasons; for example, they converted because they wanted to marry someone?

If the convert followed all the procedures, including full acceptance of all the mitzvos, the conversion is valid, even though we disapprove of what was done. If the convert remains faithful to Jewish observance, we will treat him with all the respect due to a Jew. However, before reaching a decision as to his status, the beis din waits a while, to see whether the convert is indeed fully committed to living a Jewish life (Rambam, Issurei Bi’ah 13:15-18).

However, someone who is not committed to mitzvah observance and just goes through the procedures has not become Jewish at all.

Jim was interested in “converting to Judaism” because his wife was Jewish, and not because he was interested in observing mitzvos. At first, he went to a Rav who explained that he must observe all the mitzvos, and certainly they must live within a frum community. This was not what Jim had in mind, so he went shopping for a “rabbi” who would meet his standards. Who would believe that there is any validity to this conversion?

CONVERSION PROCESS

How does a non-Jew become Jewish? As mentioned above, Klal Yisrael joined Hashem’s covenant with three steps: bris milah (for males), immersion in a mikveh, and offering a korban (Kerisus 9a). Since no korbanos are brought today, the convert becomes a geir without fulfilling this mitzvah. (We derive from a pasuk that geirim are accepted even in generations that do not have a Beis HaMikdash.) However, when the Beis HaMikdash is iy”H rebuilt, every geir will be required to offer a korban olah which is completely burnt on the mizbei’ach (Rambam, Hilchos Issurei Bi’ah 13:5). Those who have already become geirim will become obligated to bring this korban at that time.

Besides these three steps, the convert must accept all the mitzvos, just as the Jews originally took upon themselves the responsibility to observe all the mitzvos.

Preferably, each step in the geirus procedure should be witnessed by a beis din. Some poskim contend that the bris and tevilah are valid even if not witnessed by a beis din. But all poskim agree that if the kabbalas (accepting) mitzvos does not take place in the presence of a beis din, the conversion is invalid (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 268:3). Thus, a minimal requirement for proper giyur (conversion) is that the geir’s commitment to observe all the mitzvos and practices of a Jew be made in the presence of a kosher beis din. Any “conversion” with no commitment to mitzvos is, by definition, invalid and without any halachic foundation.

Unfortunately, some well-intentioned converts have been misled by people purporting to be batei din for geirus. I know of more than one situation in which people underwent four different conversion procedures, until they performed a geirus in the presence of a kosher beis din with proper kabbalas mitzvos!

KABBALAS MITZVOS

As mentioned above, kabbalas mitzvos is a verbalized acceptance to observe all the Torah’s mitzvos. We do not accept a convert who states that he is accepting all the mitzvos of the Torah except for one (Bechoros 30b). Rav Moshe Feinstein discusses a woman who was interested in converting and was willing to fulfill all the mitzvos, except the requirements to dress in a halachically tzenuah manner. Rav Moshe rules that it is questionable if her geirus is valid (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 3:106).

If the potential convert states that he/she accepts responsibility to fulfill all the mitzvos, we usually assume that the geirus is valid. However, what is the halacha if a person declares that he accepts the mitzvos, but his behavior indicates the opposite? For example, what happens if the convert eats non-kosher food or desecrates Shabbos immediately following his conversion procedure? Is he considered Jewish?

Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that, when it is clear that the person never intended to observe mitzvos, the conversion is invalid. The person remains a non-Jew, since he never undertook kabbalas mitzvos, which is the most important component of geirus (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:157; 3:106).

BEIS DIN

As mentioned before, conversion is an act that requires a proper beis din, meaning minimally, three fully observant male Jews.

Since a beis din cannot perform a legal function at night or on Shabbos or Yom Tov, conversions cannot be performed at these times (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 268:4).

CHILD CONVERSION

Until now we have discussed the conversion of adults. A child can also be converted to Judaism (Kesubos 11a). There are two common reasons why this is done: either when the child’s parents are converting to Judaism, or when a non-Jewish child is adopted by Jewish parents.

The conversion of a child involves an interesting question. As we explained above, the convert’s acceptance of the mitzvos is the main factor that makes him into a Jew. However, since a child is too young to assume legal obligations and responsibilities, how can his conversion be valid when it is without a legal acceptance of mitzvos?

The answer is that we know that children can be converted from the historical precedent of Sinai, where the Jewish people accepted the Torah and mitzvos. Among them were thousands of children who also joined the covenant and became part of klal Yisrael. When these children became adults, they became responsible to keep mitzvos (Tosafos, Sanhedrin 68b). Thus, in the case of giyur katan, the geirus process consists of bris milah and immersion in a mikvah.

There is, however, a qualitative difference between a child who becomes part of the covenant together with his parents and an adopted child who is becoming Jewish without his birth parents. In the former case the parent assumes responsibility for the child’s decision (Kesubos 11a; Rashi, Yevamos 48a s.v. eved), whereas an adoptive parent cannot assume this role in the conversion process. Instead, the beis din supervising the geirus acts as the child’s surrogate parents and assumes responsibility for his geirus. This same approach is used if a child comes of his own volition and requests to be converted (Mordechai, Yevamos 4:40).

CAN THE CHILD REJECT THIS DECISION?

Yes. If the child convert decides upon reaching maturity that he does not want to be Jewish, he invalidates his conversion and reverts to being a gentile. The age at which a child can make this decision is when he or she becomes obligated to observe mitzvos, twelve for a girl and thirteen for a boy (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:162).

CAN HE CHANGE HIS MIND LATER IN LIFE?

No. Once the child achieves maturity and is living an observant lifestyle, this is considered an acceptance of the conversion that cannot be rejected afterwards.

WHAT IF THE CHILD CONVERT WAS UNAWARE THAT HE WAS A GEIR AND DID NOT KNOW THAT HE HAD THE OPTION?

Rav Moshe Feinstein discusses the case of a couple that adopted a non-Jewish child but did not want to tell him that he was adopted. (Not telling the child he is adopted may be inadvisable for psychological reasons, but this is an article on halacha, not psychology.) Rav Moshe raises the following halachic reason why the parents should tell the child that he is a convert. Assuming that the child knows he is a child convert, he has the option to accept or reject his Judaism when turning bar mitzvah (or bas mitzvah for a girl), which is a time that the parents have much influence on their child. Subsequent to this time, he cannot opt out of Judaism. However, if he does not discover that he is a convert until he becomes an adult, he would have the option at that time to accept or reject his Judaism, and the parents have limited influence on his decision.

WHAT IF THE CHILD WANTS TO BE A NON-OBSERVANT JEW?

What is the halacha if the child at age thirteen wants to be Jewish, but does not want to be observant?

There is a dispute among poskim whether this constitutes a rejection of one’s conversion. Some contend that not observing mitzvos is not the same as rejecting conversion; the conversion is only undone if the child does not want to be Jewish. Others contend that not observing mitzvos is considered an abandonment of one’s being Jewish.

Many years ago I asked my rebbe, Rav Yaakov Kulefsky zt”l, about the following situation. A boy underwent a giyur katan and was raised by non-observant “traditional” parents who kept a kosher home but did not observe Shabbos. The boy wanted to be Jewish without being observant, just like his adoptive parents. The family wanted to celebrate his bar mitzvah in an Orthodox shul and have the boy read from the Torah. Was this permitted or was the boy considered non-Jewish?

Rav Kulefsky, zt”l, paskened that the boy could read from the Torah and was considered halachically Jewish. Other poskim disagree, contending that being halachically Jewish requires acknowledging the mitzvos we must perform. Someone who rejects the mitzvos thereby rejects the concept of being Jewish.

GEIRIM ARE SPECIAL

If a potential geir persists in his determination to join the Jewish people, the beis din will usually recommend a program whereby he can learn about Judaism and set him on track for giyur. A geir tzedek should be treated with tremendous love and respect. Indeed, the Torah gives us a special mitzvah to “Love the Geir,” and we daven for them daily in our Shmoneh Esrei!

Throughout the years, I have met many sincere geirim and have been truly impressed by their dedication to Torah and mitzvos. Hearing about the journey to find truth that brought them to Judaism is usually fascinating. What would cause a gentile to join the Jewish people, risk confronting the brunt of anti-Semitism, while at the same time being uncertain that Jews will accept him?  Sincere converts are drawn by the truth of Torah and a desire to be part of the Chosen People. They know that they can follow the will of Hashem by doing seven mitzvos, but they insist on choosing an all-encompassing Torah lifestyle.

One sincere young woman, of Oriental background, stood firmly before the beis din. “Why would you want this?” questioned the Rav.

“Because it is truth and gives my life meaning.”

“There are many rules to follow,” he cautioned.

“I know. I have been following them meticulously for two years,” was the immediate reply. “I identify with the Jews.”

After further questioning, the beis din authorized her geirus, offering her two dates convenient for them. She chose the earlier one, so she could keep one extra Shabbos.

We should learn from the geir to observe our mitzvos every day with tremendous excitement – just as if we had received them for the first time!

Feeding the Birds

Question #1: Was Mom Wrong?

“My mother always shook out crumbs in our backyard on parshas Beshalach. Although she was frum her whole life, she had little formal Jewish education, and all of her Yiddishkeit was what she picked up from her home. I discovered recently that Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah prohibits this practice. So how could my mother have done this?”

Question #2: Dog Next Door

“We have an excellent relationship with our next door neighbor, who happens not to be Jewish, although I am not sure if that affects the question. They are going away on vacation and have asked us to feed their pets while they are away. May I do so on Shabbos?”

Question #3: In the Zoo

“How are zoo animals fed on Shabbos?”

Introduction:

Many people have the custom of scattering wheat or breadcrumbs for the birds to enjoy as their seudas Shabbos on Shabbos Parshas Beshalach, which is called Shabbos Shirah. This practice, which we know goes back hundreds of years, has engendered halachic discussion as to whether it is actually permitted. I will first explain the reasons for the custom and then the halachic issues and discussion, which we can trace from the earliest commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch to the recent authorities. I am also assuming that there is no problem of carrying – in other words, we are discussing scattering food within an area enclosed by an eruv.

Manna on Shabbos

To explain the reason for this practice that my mother taught me and that my mother-in-law taught my wife, we need to first look at our parsha. Moshe informed Bnei Yisroel that no manna would fall on Shabbos morning, and that the double portion received on Friday would suffice for two days. The Torah teaches that some Jews went to look for manna anyway on Shabbos morning, but did not find any.

According to the traditional story, Doson and Aviram took some of their own leftover manna from Friday, which means that they went a bit hungry that day. They placed this manna outside the Jewish camp, and in the morning they informed the people that manna had fallen. Their attempt to discredit the miracle failed when the people went to look and found nothing there. This was because some birds had arrived to eat the manna before the people would find it. To reward the birds for preventing a chillul Hashem, people spread food for the birds to eat.

Like the birds

I saw another reason for this practice, also related to the falling of the manna. According to this reason, placing feed for birds is to remind us that Hashem provided food for us in the desert, similar to the way birds readily find their food without any difficulty.

Birds sing

Others cite a different basis for the practice. According to this version, the reason for feeding the birds on this Shabbos is because on Shabbos Shirah, we commemorate the Jews singing praise to Hashem after being saved at the Yam Suf. According to this reason, the birds also sang shirah at the Yam Suf, and we feed them to commemorate the event (Tosafos Shabbos 324:17, and several later authorities who quote him). As a matter of fact, the Hebrew word tzipor is based on the Aramaic word tzafra,which means morning, and expresses the concept that birds sing praise to Hashem every morning (see Ramban, Vayikra 14:4).

There is a fascinating account transmitted verbally from the Tzemach Tzedek of Lubavitch, who heard from his grandfather, the Ba’al HaTanya, that their ancestor, the Maharal of Prague, would do the following on Shabbos Shirah: First, he told the rebbei’im of the schools and the fathers to bring the children to the shul courtyard. He then instructed the rabbei’im to relate to the children the story of Keri’as Yam Suf,how the birds sang and danced while Moshe and the Bnei Yisroel sang Az Yashir, and that the children crossing Yam Suf took fruits from trees growing there and afterward fed them to the birds that sang.

No local songbirds

Although I have not yet explained the halachic controversy surrounding this custom, I will share a difference in practical halacha that might result from the dispute between the different reasons. According to the first two reasons, one would spread food for the birds, even if one lives in an area where the bird population includes no songbirds. According to the third approach, in such a place there would be no reason to observe the practice.

Questionable practice

Notwithstanding that Jews have been observing the custom of spreading food for birds on Shabbos Shirah for several hundred years, there is a major halachic controversy about its observance. This is based on a Mishnah and a passage of the Gemara that discuss whether on Shabbos one may provide water and food for birds and other creatures that are not dependent on man for their daily bread or birdseed. The reason for this prohibition is, apparently, because this type of activity, being unnecessary for one’s observance of Shabbos, is viewed as a tircha yeseirah. I will explain this as “distracting exertion,” meaning that Chazal did not want us involving ourselves in what they determined to be unnecessary activities, since this detracts from the sanctity of the Shabbos day.

I have seen much discussion about the custom of feeding birds on Shabbos Shirah, but virtually all in Ashkenazic sources. It seems to me that this custom is either predominantly or exclusively an Ashkenazic practice. The only Sephardic authority I have found who mentions the practice is the Kaf Hachayim, who lived in the twentieth century, and whose work predominantly anthologizes earlier commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch. Therefore, his reporting the Ashkenazic authorities who discuss the custom does not necessarily reflect that any Sefardic communities observed this practice.

At this point, we need to discuss the background to the halachic question about the practice of feeding the birds on Shabbos Shirah.

The original source

The Mishnah (Shabbos 155b) rules that one may not place water before bees or doves that live in cotes, but one may do so before geese, chickens and Hardisian doves.

What type of dove?

There are actually three different texts of this Mishnah. According to one version, one is prohibited to water “Hardisian” doves (Rashi), which refers to a geographic location where they raised doves similarly to the way ducks or geese are raised as livestock.A second version prohibits providing water to “Herodian” doves (Rambam, Bartenura). This text refers to a variety of domesticated bird developed by Herod, or, more likely, by his bird keepers. (The Meleches Shelomoh cites a third text, which is not pertinent to our discussion.)

In a passage of Gemara relevant to the mitzvah of shiluach hakein, the prohibition against taking the mother bird and her eggs or young offspring, the Gemara (Chullin 139b) provides two texts and explanations as to which of these two types of birds, Hardisian doves or Herodian doves, is excluded from the prohibition. In the context of shiluach hakein, the prohibition is dependent on the birds being ownerless, and both Hardisian and Herodian doves have owners. (From the Gemara’s description, it appears that Herodian doves may have been a variety of parrot or other talking bird. We have no mesorah that parrots are a kosher species of bird, which is one of the halachic requirements for the mitzvah of shiluach hakein, but that does not preclude understanding the Gemara this way.)

In either instance, it is permitted to take both the mother and the offspring of both Hardisian and Herodian birds, because the Torah prohibits doing so only when the birds are hefker, ownerless, which these birds are not. The Gemara describes the large numbers of these birds that were raised, something that today’s breeders of chickens can only envy.

Although these varieties of birds were well known at the time of the Mishnah, by the time of the Gemara, these varieties were heading toward extinction.

Watering birds

Returning to the Mishnah in Shabbos, according to either text, “Hardisian” or “Herodian,” one may provide these birds with water on Shabbos. Our first question is why the Mishnah permits one to water geese, chickens and these doves, but not bees nor doves that reside in cotes. The Gemara provides two answers to explain why there is a difference.

The first answer is that bees and most doves are not dependent on mankind for their sustenance, whereas geese, chickens, and these varieties of domesticated doves are. The Gemara then provides a second answer that limits the prohibition to water, since it is readily available without human assistance. According to the second answer, there is no prohibition against feeding birds on Shabbos. The prohibition is only that one should not provide water to those birds and insects that can easily get their hydration on their own.

Feeding on Yom Tov

According to some rishonim, we find a similar discussion regarding providing food for animals on Yom Tov (Rashi, Beitzah 23b).

Dogs versus pigs

In the same discussion of Gemara, it quotes a beraisa (a teaching dating back to the era of the Mishnah) that permits feeding dogs on Shabbos, but prohibits feeding pigs. The beraisa itself asks why there is a difference, and explains that the sustenance of one’s dogs is dependent on the owner, but the sustenance of his pigs is not.

This leads to an obvious question: Both of these species are non-kosher, yet the beraisa does not prohibit feeding one’s dogs. It also does not say that it depends on whether he owns them or not. Rashi explains that since a curse was placed on any Jew who raises pigs (see Sotah 49b), Jews should not be responsible for feeding them, and therefore Chazal prohibited doing so. Although pigs are often domesticated by people who are not concerned about observing the halacha that prohibits raising them (Sotah 49b), Chazal expanded this prohibition and ruled that, even should someone own a pig, he may not feed it on Shabbos since the sustenance of a pig should not be dependent on a Jew (see Rashi, Shabbos ad locum; Magen Avraham, Machatzis Hashekel). On the other hand, one may feed dogs on Shabbos, since it is permitted to own a dog, particularly in a farm setting, where dogs are useful for herding sheep and other activities.

Only my dog?

In relation to this question, we find a dispute among early acharonim. The Magen Avraham, one of the greatest of the early commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch, rules that you may feed any non-dangerous dog on Shabbos, whether you own it or not. He understands that the Gemara meant that you may feed any animals that are dependent on man, and you may feed all dogs, but you may not feed any pigs, even when they are dependent on man, since a Jew is not supposed to raise pigs (Machatzis Hashekel).

On the other hand, other authorities rule that one may feed a dog only when it is dependent on a Jew for food (see Elyah Rabbah 324:11).

The halachic authorities note that there are a few instances in which it is permitted for a Jew to own a pig. One situation is when he received it as payment of a debt; another is that he inherited it from someone not observant. The halacha is that he is permitted to sell it, and that he may wait until he is offered a market value price for it. In the interim, he is permitted to feed it, even on Shabbos, since it is dependent on him for food (Machatzis Hashekel).

Based on this analysis, the geonim permitted feeding silkworms on Shabbos (Beis Yosef and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 324:12). Similarly, some authorities explain that the Gemara’s discussion is only about feeding animals that one does as a matter of course, but that one may and should provide food to any animal that is hungry (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 324:2).

Which way do we rule?

The authorities dispute which answer of the Gemara we follow. The Rif, the Rambam (21:36) and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 324:11) conclude that we follow the stricter approach, whereas the Ran and the Olas Shabbos conclude that the more lenient approach may be followed. Thus, according to the Shulchan Aruch’s conclusion, one may not provide either food or water on Shabbos to bees, doves or any other creature that is not dependent on man, while according to the Ran, one may provide them with food but not water. It should be noted that, in situations where it is permitted to feed the animals, one may even put food directly in their mouths (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 324:10).

Nextdoor dog

At this point, we can mention the last of our opening questions. “We have an excellent relationship with our next door neighbor, who is not Jewish, although I am not sure if that affects the question. They are going away on vacation and have asked us to feed their pets while they are away. May I do so on Shabbos?” “How are zoo animals fed on Shabbos?”

The second question is easy to answer. Since these animals are in captivity, they are dependent on man for food, and one is not only permitted, but required, to make sure that they have adequate feed on Shabbos. The first question may be a bit more complicated. These animals generally are not dependent on the Jewish neighbor, but this Shabbos they will be. I refer those who want to analyze this question further to a short piece by Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach, quoted in Shulchan Shelomoh (Chapter 324), in which he discusses a related topic.

The custom on Shabbos Shirah

At this point, we should discuss our opening question, whether it is indeed permitted to feed birds on Shabbos Shirah. The Magen Avraham (324:7) mentions the practice of providing grain for birds to eat on Shabbos Shirah, and states that the practice is in violation of the halacha. This approach is followed by most of the halachic commentaries, including the Elyah Rabbah, the Machatzis Hashekel, the Shulchan Aruch Harav, and the Mishnah Berurah. However, there are some authorities who justify the practice. For example, the Tosafos Shabbos suggests it is permitted, since we are doing it not to make sure the birds are fed but to perpetuate the minhag. Thus, he posits, the ethical and religious intent renders the activity permitted. A few of the later commentaries – those who, in general, strive to justify common practice – are lenient, either citing the reason of the Tosafos Shabbos, or similar approaches (Aruch Hashulchan 324:3; Daas Torah).

Muktzah

An interesting additional halachic side point is that the early authorities discuss scattering grains, or specifically wheat, to the birds. In earlier days, when people owned farm animals and used grains as feed, these grains were not muktzah on Shabbos. However, most of us do not own raw grain, and, since we can neither grind it nor cook it on Shabbos, and we do not eat it or feed it to animals as raw kernels, these grains are muktzah on Shabbos (see Aruch Hashulchan 517:2).

Shaking out the tablecloth

Even among the very late authorities, we find a dispute as to whether one may feed the birds on Shabbos Shirah. The sefer Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah (27:21) rules that one should not, following the approach of the Magen Avraham and the Mishnah Berurah. However, he suggests a way of fulfilling the custom without creating any halachic problem. His advice is to shake out the tablecloth after the meal in a place where the birds can eat the crumbs. He bases this on the ruling of the Eishel Avraham of Butchach (324:11 s.v. Gam), who says that, when throwing or discarding food, there is no requirement to make sure that one does not throw it in front of animals. The prohibition is doing extra work on behalf of animals that otherwise will be able to fend for themselves easily. Shaking out the tablecloth is not an unnecessary Shabbos activity.

Another suggestion is to spread crumbs before Shabbos, which allows the birds to feast on them on Shabbos without involving any halachic question.

On the other hand, Rav Eliezer Yehudah Valdenberg contends that feeding birds on Shabbos Shirah has an old, venerated history – he notes that he remembers it being practiced in the households of many gedolei Yisroel, without anyone questioning whether one may. He mentions the different reasons cited above why one may be lenient (Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer, Vol. XIV, #28). In conclusion, I advise each reader to ask his or her own rav or posek whether to follow the practice.

Conclusion

We should not conclude from this discussion that halacha is opposed to our taking care of animals. The Tosefta (Bava Kama,end of Chapter 9)states, “Rabbi Yehudah said, in the name of Rabban Gamliel: ‘Know this sign well: as long as you act with mercy, Hashem will have mercy on you.’” Sefer Chassidim #666 notes: If we are merciful to our animals, Hashem and others will be merciful to us.

The point is that when the animals can easily take care of themselves, we should be devoting Shabbos to our own personal growth and not become distracted from this goal. After all, Shabbos is our reminder that Hashem created the entire universe.

Redeeming a Firstborn Donkey!

As a cohen, I often participate in the mitzvah of pidyon haben, redeeming a firstborn male child, a bechor; but I have never been asked to participate in redeeming a firstborn donkey, in Hebrew called petter chamor.

The Torah mentions this mitzvah in three different places.

(1) In Parshas Bo, the pasuk says: Every firstborn donkey, you shall redeem with a “seh,” and if you do not redeem it, you should break its neck. Furthermore, the firstborn of your children, you shall also redeem (Shemos 13:13). (I will explain later why I did not translate the world “seh.”)

(2) The pasuk repeats the same commandment almost verbatim in Parshas Ki Sissa (Shemos 34:20).

(3) In Parshas Korach, the Torah states: And the firstborn of a non-kosher animal you shall redeem (Bamidbar 18:15). Although this third verse does not mention specifically that it refers to a donkey, the halacha is that it refer exclusively to donkeys. There is no mitzvah to redeem a firstborn colt, camel, or puppy (Tosefta, Bechoros 1:2).

WITH WHAT DO WE REDEEM?

As mentioned above, the Torah commands the owner of a firstborn male donkey to redeem him by giving the cohen a seh, a word we usually translate as lamb. However, the word seh in the Torah does not mean only a lamb, but includes a kid goat (Mishnah Bechoros 9a). (In the mitzvah of Korban Pesach, Shemos 12:5, the Torah mentions this explicitly.) In actuality, one fulfills this mitzvah by giving the cohen either a sheep or a goat to redeem the donkey – whether they are young or mature, male or female (Mishnah Bechoros 9a). Furthermore, there is an alternative way to fulfill the mitzvah — by redeeming the donkey with anything that is worth at least as much as the donkey (Bechoros 11a). However, if the owner redeems the donkey with a sheep or goat, he fulfills the mitzvah, even though the sheep or goat is worth far less than the donkey (Rambam, Hilchos Bikkurim 12:11).

As we saw above, the Torah mentions the mitzvah of pidyon haben immediately after discussing the mitzvah of redeeming the firstborn donkey. Based on this juxtaposition of the two mitzvos, Chazal made several comparisons between them. For example, just as the mitzvah of pidyon haben applies only to a male child, so, too, the mitzvah of petter chamor applies only to a firstborn male donkey and not to a female. Similarly, just as the child of a cohen or levi is exempt from the mitzvah of pidyon haben, so, too, a donkey that is owned (or even partially owned) by a cohen or levi is exempt from the mitzvah of petter chamor (see Mishnah Bechoros 3b). And just as a newborn child whose mother is the daughter of a cohen or a levi is exempt from the mitzvah of pidyon haben, so, too, a donkey that is owned or even partially owned by the daughter of a cohen or a levi is exempt from the mitzvah of petter chamor (Shu”t HaRashba 1:366). This is true even if the bas cohen or bas levi is married to a yisroel (Rema, Yoreh Deah 321:19).

Thus, a yisroel who owns a donkey that is pregnant for the first time could avoid performing the mitzvah of petter chamor by selling a percentage of the pregnant donkey or a percentage of her fetus to a cohen,a levi,a bas cohen or a bas levi. He could even avoid the mitzvah by selling a percentage to his own wife, if she is a bas cohen or a bas levi. However, in order to perform this transaction in a halachically correct fashion, he should consult with a rav.

This is assuming that he wants to avoid the opportunity to perform a mitzvah and save himself a few dollars. However, a Torah-observant Jew welcomes the opportunity to observe every mitzvah he can, and certainly a rare one. (How many people do you know who have fulfilled the mitzvah of petter chamor? Wouldn’t you want to be the first one on your block to have done so?) Thus, he will try to create a chiyuv of petter chamor, not try to avoid it. However, in the case of a different, but similar, mitzvah, we try to avoid the mitzvah for very good reason, as we will explain.

BECHOR OF A KOSHER SPECIES

A firstborn male calf, kid, or lamb has kedusha, sanctity, which requires treating this animal as a korban. When the Beis HaMikdash stood, the owner gave this animal to a cohen of his choice, who offered it as a korban and ate its meat. Today, when, unfortunately, we have no Beis HaMikdash, this animal still has the kedusha of a korban, but we cannot offer it. Furthermore, as opposed to the firstborn donkey that the owner redeems, the firstborn calf, kid, or lamb cannot be redeemed.

This presents a serious problem. Many Jews are cattle farmers, raising beef or dairy cattle. If a Jew owns a heifer (a young, female cow that has not yet borne a calf) that calves for the first time, the male offspring has the sanctity of a korban. Using it in any way is prohibited min haTorah and is therefore a serious offense. One must wait until the animal becomes permanently injured in a way that makes it not serviceable as a korban, and then the animal may be slaughtered and eaten. Until the animal becomes this severely injured, anyone who benefits from this animal in any way will violate a serious Torah prohibition. Furthermore, it is forbidden to injure this animal in any way or to cause it to become blemished or damaged.

Thus, possessing a male firstborn calf, goat or lamb can be a big problem, and could easily cause someone to violate halacha, certainly something that we want to avoid. The method of avoiding these problems is to sell a percentage of the mother or its fetus to a non-Jew before the calf is born. If a non-Jew owns any part of either the mother of the firstborn or the firstborn himself, there is no sanctity on the offspring. In this instance, we deliberately avoid creating the kedusha on the offspring in order to avoid a situation that may lead to undesired results. Since the animal has kedusha that could be violated, and we cannot remove its kedusha, we want to avoid creating this situation.

DOES A PETTER CHAMOR HAVE KEDUSHA?

Prior to its being redeemed, a firstborn donkey has kedusha similar to that of a korban. It is prohibited min haTorah to use it: one may not ride on it, have it carry for you, or even use its hair. The hair that falls off may not be used and must be burnt. Someone who uses this donkey violates a prohibition approximately equivalent to wearing shatnez or eating non-kosher (Rashi, Pesachim 47a s.v. Ve’hein; Rivan, Makkos 21b s.v. ve’hein; cf., however, Tosafos, Makkos 21b s.v. Hachoreish).

Until the donkey is redeemed, one may not sell it, although some poskim permit selling it for the difference between the value of the donkey and a sheep (Rosh, Bechoros 1:11; Tur and Rema, Yoreh Deah 321:8). Many poskim contend that if the donkey is sold, the money may not be used (Rambam, Hilchos Bikkurim 12:4; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 321:8).

WHAT IF THE PETTER CHAMOR WAS NEVER REDEEMED?

If the donkey is unredeemed, it maintains its kedusha its entire life! Thus, if it dies unredeemed, the carcass must be buried to make sure that no one ever uses it. We may not even burn it, because of concern that someone might use its ashes, which remain prohibited (Mishnah Temurah 33b-34a).

Furthermore, by not redeeming it, the owner violated the mitzvah that requires him to redeem it.

Have you ever ridden a donkey? Although it is uncommon to ride them in North America, in Eretz Yisroel this is not an unusual form of entertainment. Did you stop to wonder whether the donkey might be a firstborn and riding it is prohibited?

One need not be concerned. Since most of the donkeys of the world are not firstborn, one does not need to assume that this donkey is. Truthfully, the likelihood of a donkey being holy is very slim for another reason — most donkeys are owned by non-Jews, and a non-Jew’s firstborn donkey has no sanctity, as we explained before.

VANISHING KEDUSHA!!

Once the firstborn donkey is redeemed, both he and the lamb used to redeem him have no kedusha at all. In this halacha, petter chamor is an anomalous mitzvah. In all other cases when we redeem an item that may not be used, the kedusha is transferred to the redeeming item. Only in the mitzvah of petter chamor does the kedusha disappear, never to return. It is almost as if the kedusha that was on the donkey vanished into thin air!

REFUSES TO REDEEM

What is the halacha if the owner refuses to redeem his donkey?

As we know from the Torah, there is another option. If the owner chooses not to redeem his firstborn donkey, he could instead perform the arifah, in which he kills the firstborn donkey in a specific prescribed way. The Torah does not want the owner to follow this approach — he is supposed to redeem the donkey, rather than kill it (Mishnah Bechoros 13a). The Rishonim dispute whether performing the arifah fulfills a mitzvah or, instead, is considered an aveirah (see dispute between Rambam and Raavad in Hilchos Bikkurim 12:1).

WHEN SHOULD THE OWNER PERFORM THE REDEMPTION?

In this halacha, there is a major difference between the mitzvah of pidyon haben and the mitzvah of petter chamor. The father of a newborn bechor does not perform the mitzvah of pidyon haben until his son is at least thirty days old. However, the owner of the firstborn donkey should redeem him within the first 30 days of its birth, and should preferably perform the mitzvah as soon as possible (Rambam, Hilchos Bikkurim 12:6; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 321:1).

PERFORMING THE MITZVAH

There are actually two stages in performing the mitzvah of petter chamor, although the two can be performed simultaneously. For our purposes, we will call the two steps, (a) the redeeming and (b) the giving. In the redeeming step, the owner takes a lamb, kid, or something else worth at least as much as the donkey, and states that he is redeeming the donkey in exchange for the redemption item. Prior to making this statement, the owner recites a bracha, Asher kideshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu al pidyon petter chamor (Tosafos, Bechoros 11a; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 321:6). He then states that he is exchanging the lamb or other item for the kedusha of the donkey. As soon as he performs this exchange, the sanctity is removed from the petter chamor and one may use the donkey (Mishnah Bechoros 12b).

In the giving step, the owner gives the lamb (or the item exchanged for the donkey) to the cohen as a gift. The owner has the right to decide to which cohen he gives the gift (see Rambam, Hilchos Bechoros 1:15). No bracha is recited on this step of the mitzvah, and there is much discussion in poskim regarding why this is so (Taz, Yoreh Deah 321:7).

Although there are two different parts of this mitzvah — redeeming the kedusha from the firstborn and giving the gift to the cohen — both parts of this mitzvah can be performed simultaneously, by giving the lamb (or items of value) to the cohen and telling him that this is redemption for the donkey. When redeeming the donkey this way, the owner does recite a bracha.

Now, what does the cohen do with the lamb? He does not need to leave it tied to a bedpost in his apartment, nor have it graze in his backyard. He may sell it, should he choose, or can have it converted into lamb or goat chops!

Conclusion

Why was the donkey an exception? Why is this the only one of the non-kosher species whose firstborn carries kedusha?

The Gemara teaches that this is a reward for the donkey. When the Bnei Yisroel left Egypt, the Egyptians gave us many gifts (see Shemos 11:2-3; 12:35-36). The Bnei Yisroel needed to transport all these gifts out of Egypt and through the Desert to Eretz Yisroel. They could not simply call Allied Van Lines to ship their belongings. Instead, they used Donkey Lines, who performed this service for forty years, without complaint or fanfare! In reward for the donkeys’ providing the Bnei Yisroel with a very necessary shipping service, the Torah endowed the firstborn of this species with sanctity (Bechoros 5b). Hashem rewarded the donkey with its very own special kedusha.

Thus, this mitzvah teaches us the importance of hakaras hatov, acknowledging when someone helps us. We acknowledge donkeys, because their ancestors performed kindness for us. If we are required to appreciate the help given to our ancestors thousands of years ago, how much more do we need to exhibit hakaras hatov to our parents, teachers, and spouses for all that they have done and do for us!

The Crisis of Unwashed Meat

All the water in Egypt turned to blood. We also use water as part of the process in removing blood from meat, and, therefore, this week we will discuss:

Photo by Ove Tøpfer from FreeImages

Devorah calls me: “During our summer vacation, I entered a butcher shop that has reliable supervision and noticed a sign on the wall, ‘We sell washed and unwashed meat.’ This seemed very strange: Would anyone eat unwashed meat? Besides, isn’t all meat washed as part of the koshering process? What did the sign mean?”

Michael asked me: “Someone asked me if I have any problem with the kashrus of frozen meat. What can possibly be wrong with frozen meat?”

Answer: We should be aware that, although today we usually have a steady supply of kosher meat with all possible hiddurim, sometimes circumstances are more difficult. This is where “washed meat” and “frozen meat” may enter the picture, both terms referring to specific cases whose kashrus is subject to halachic dispute.

Knowing that Devorah enjoys stories, I told her an anecdote that illustrates what can happen when kosher choices are slim.

I was once rabbi in a community that has memorable winters. Our city was often covered with snow by Sukkos and, in some years, it was still snowing in May. There were several times that we could not use the sukkah without clearing snow off the schach, something my Yerushalmi neighbors find hard to comprehend.

One short erev Shabbos, the weather was unusually inclement, even for our region of the country; the major interstate highway and all secondary “state routes” were closed because of a blizzard. The locals called this weather “whiteout” — referring not to a fluid for correcting errors, but to the zero visibility created by the combination of wind and snow.

Fortunately, I lived around the corner from shul and was able to navigate my way back and forth by foot. Our house, too, was – baruch Hashem – sufficiently stocked to get through Shabbos.

About a half-hour before Shabbos, in the midst of our last minute preparations, the telephone rang:

“Is this Rabbi Kaganoff?” inquired an unfamiliar female voice. I responded affirmatively, though somewhat apprehensive. People do not call with shaylos late Friday afternoon, unless it is an emergency. What new crisis would this call introduce? Perhaps I was lucky and this was simply a damsel in distress inquiring about the kashrus of her cholent, or one who had just learned that her crock pot may fail to meet proper Shabbos standards. Hoping that the emergency was no more severe, I listened attentively.

“Rabbi Kaganoff, I was given your phone number in case of emergency.” I felt the first knots in my stomach. What emergency was this when I hoped to momentarily head out to greet the Shabbos queen? Was someone, G-d forbid, caught in the storm? I was certainly unprepared for the continuing conversation.

“I am a dispatcher for the All-American Transport Company,” she continued. “We have a load of kosher meat held up by the storm that needs to be washed by 11 p.m. Saturday.” My caller, located somewhere in the Nebraska Corn Belt, was clearly more familiar with halachos of kosher meat than she was with the ramifications of calling a frum household minutes before candle lighting. Although I was very curious how All-American had located me, a potential Lone Washer in the Wilderness, the hour of the week required expedition, not curiosity. Realizing that, under stress, one’s tone of voice can create a kiddush Hashem or, G-d forbid, the opposite, I politely asked if she could call me back in about 25 hours, which would still be several hours before the meat’s deadline. I guess that she assumed that it would take me that long to dig my car out.

Later, I determined the meat’s ultimate destination, a place we will call Faroutof Town, information that ultimately proved highly important.

Why was a Nebraska truck dispatcher calling to arrange the washing of kosher meat? Before returning to our meat stalled at the side of the highway, I need to provide some halachic background.

EXORCISING THE BLOOD

In several places, the Torah commands that we may not eat blood, but only meat. Of course, blood is the efficient transporter of nutrients to the muscles and permeates the animal’s flesh while it is still alive. If so, how do we extract the prohibited blood from the permitted meat?

Chazal gave us two methods of removing blood from meat. One is by soaking and salting the meat, and the other is by broiling it. In practical terms, the first approach, usually referred to simply as “kashering meat,” involves soaking the meat for thirty minutes, shaking off the water, salting the meat thoroughly on all sides, and then allowing the blood to drain freely for an hour. At the end of this process, the meat is rinsed thoroughly to wash away all the blood and salt. Indeed, Devorah is correct that the salting of all meat involves several washings. She was correct in assuming that the sign she saw in the butcher’s shop did not refer to these washings, but to a different washing that I will soon explain.

BROILING MEAT

An alternative method of extracting blood from meat is by broiling it. This is the only halachically accepted method of removing blood from liver. In this approach, the liver is sliced or slit to allow its blood to run out, the surface blood is rinsed off and the liver is placed under or over a flame to broil in a way that allows the blood to drain freely. Accepted practice is that we sprinkle a small amount of salt on the liver immediately prior to broiling it (Rema, Yoreh Deah 73:5).

Halachically, it is perfectly acceptable to broil any meat, rather than soak and salt it. However, on a commercial level, customers want to purchase raw meat and, therefore, the usual method used for kosher cuisine is soaking and salting. For most of mankind’s history, kashering meat was performed at home, but contemporaneously, the properly supervised butcher or other commercial facility almost universally performs it.

Although this explains why one must kasher meat before serving it, we still do not know why Ms. Nebraska was so concerned that her meat be washed en route.

SEVENTY-TWO HOURS OR BUST

The Geonim enacted that meat must be salted within seventy-two hours of its shechitah. They contended that, after three days, blood inside the meat hardens and is no longer extractable through soaking and salting. Should meat not be soaked and salted within 72 hours, they ruled that only broiling successfully removes the blood. Of course, if one does not want to eat broiled meat, this last suggestion will not satisfy one’s culinary preferences.

Is there any way to extend the 72 hours?

The authorities discuss this question extensively. Most contend that one may extend the time if the meat is soaked thoroughly for a while during the 72 hours (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 69:13, see Taz ad loc.), although some permit this only under extenuating circumstances (Toras Chatos, quoted by Shach 69:53). On the other hand, some authorities rule that even a minor rinsing extends the 72 hours (Shu”t Masas Binyamin #108). It became standard to refer to meat that was washed to extend its time by the Yiddish expression, gegosena fleisch, hence the literal English translation, washed meat.

Also, bear in mind that this soaking helps only when the meat was soaked within 72 hours of its slaughter. Once 72 hours have passed without a proper soaking, only broiling will remove the blood. If the meat was soaked thoroughly, those who accept this heter allow a delay to kasher the meat for another 72 hours. If one is unable to kasher it by then, one can re-soak it again to further extend its 72 hours.

WASHING OR SOAKING?

At this point in my monologue, Devorah interrupted with a question:

“You mentioned soaking the meat and extending its time for three more days. But the sign called it ‘washed meat,’ not soaked meat. There is a big difference between washing something and soaking it.”

“Yes, you are raising a significant issue. Although most early authorities only mention ‘soaking’ meat, it became common practice to wash the meat instead, a practice that many authorities disputed (Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 69:28; Darkei Teshuvah 69:231- 237). There are also many different standards of what is called ‘washing’ the meat. Some hechsherim permit meat that was not salted within seventy-two hours of its shechitah by having the meat hosed down before this time elapsed. Some spray a light mist over the meat and assume that the meat is ‘washed,’ or simply take a wet rag and wipe down the outside of the meat.”

“Why would anyone do that?” inquired Devorah.

“In general, people like to save work and water, and soaking properly a whole side of beef is difficult and uses a lot of water. In addition, if one hoses meat while it is on a truck, the water may damage the truck, whereas it is even more work to remove the meat from the truck. But if one does not hose the meat properly, most authorities prohibit it.”

At this point, we can understand why Ms. Nebraska was concerned about the washing of the meat. She knew that if the meat went 72 hours without being hosed, the rabbis would reject the delivery as non-kosher. During my brief conversation, I asked her if she knew the last time the meat was washed. “It was last washed 11 p.m. Wednesday and needs re-washing by 11 p.m. Saturday,” she dutifully notified me.

At this point, I noted to Devorah that we now had enough information to address her question. “The sign in the butcher shop stating that they sell washed meat means that they sell meat that was not kashered within 72 hours of slaughter, but was washed sometime before the 72 hours ran out. It does not tell us how they washed the meat, but it is safe to assume that they did not submerge it in water. If they were following a higher standard, they hosed the meat on all sides until it was soaking wet. If they followed a different standard, hopefully, they still did whatever their rav ruled. Since you told me that it was a reliable hechsher, presumably they hosed the meat thoroughly.”

I then asked Devorah if she wanted to hear the rest of the blizzard story. As I suspected, she did – and so I return to our snowed-in town.

MOTZA’EI SHABBOS

By Motza’ei Shabbos the entire region was in the grip of a record-breaking blizzard. Walking the half block home from shul had been highly treacherous. There was no way in the world I was going anywhere that night, nor anyone else I could imagine.

At the very moment I had told the dispatcher I could be reached, the telephone rang. A different, unfamiliar voice identified itself as the driver of the stuck truck. His vehicle was exactly where it had been Friday afternoon, stranded not far from the main highway.

The driver told me the already-familiar story about his load of kosher meat, and his instructions to have the meat washed before 11 p.m., if his trip was delayed.

There was little I could do for either the driver or the meat, a fact I found frustrating. Out of desperation, I called my most trusted mashgiach, Yaakov, who lived a little closer to the scene of the non-action. Yaakov was an excellent employee, always eager to work whenever there was a job opportunity.  I explained the situation to him.

“Rabbi,” responded Yaakov, “I was just out in this storm. Not this time. Sorry.”

I was disappointed. Not that I blamed Yaakov in the slightest. It was sheer insanity to go anywhere in this storm. In fact, I was a bit surprised at myself for taking the matter so seriously. After all, it was only a load of meat.

With no good news to tell the trucker, I was not exactly enthusiastic about calling him back. I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings. So I procrastinated, rather than tell the trucker he should sit back and wait for his kosher meat to expire.

An hour later, the phone rang again, with Mr. Trucker on the line. “Rabbi,” he told me, with obvious excitement in his voice, “I’ve solved the problem.” I was highly curious to find out where he located an Orthodox Jew in the middle of a blizzard in the middle of nowhere. For a fleeting moment, I envisioned a frum Jew stranded nearby and shuddered at the type of Shabbos he must have experienced.

The trucker’s continuing conversation brought me back to the reality of the unwashed meat.

“Well, Rabbi,” he exclaimed with the exhilaration Columbus’s lookout must have felt upon spotting land, “I discovered that I was stranded a few thousand feet from a fire station. And now, all the meat has been properly hosed. Listen to this letter.” The trucker proceeded to read me the documentation of his successful find:

“On Saturday evening, the 22nd of January, at exactly 9:25 pm, I personally oversaw the successful washing of a kosher load of meat loaded on trailer 186CX and tractor 2008PR. To this declaration, I do solemnly lend my signature and seal,

“James P. O’Donald, Fire Chief, Lincoln Fire Station #2.”

Probably noticing my momentary hesitation, the trucker continues, “Rabbi, do I need to have this letter notarized?”

“No, I am sure that won’t be necessary,” I replied. I was not about to tell the driver that halachah requires that a Torah observant Jew supervise the washing of the meat. On the contrary, I complimented him on his diligence and his tremendous sense of responsibility.

At this point, I had a bit of halachic responsibility on my hands. Since I knew the meat’s ultimate destination, I needed to inform the rav in Faroutof Townof the situation.

I was able to reach the Faroutofer Rav, Rabbi Oncelearned. “I just want to notify you that your city will shortly receive a load of meat that was washed under the supervision of the ‘Fire Station K.’” Rabbi Oncelearned had never heard of the “Fire Station K” supervision and asked if I was familiar with this hechsher. I told him the whole story and we had a good laugh. I felt good that I had supplied Rabbi Oncelearned with accurate information and prepared him for the meat’s arrival. After all, it would be his learned decision that would rule once the meat arrived in town.

WHERE’S THE BEEF?

Of course, Rabbi Oncelearned now had his own predicament: Would he have to reject the town’s entire order of kosher meat, incurring the wrath of hungry customers and undersupplied butchers? Or could he figure out a legitimate way to permit the meat?

There was, indeed, a halachic basis to permit the meat under the extenuating circumstances because of a different heter, but not because of the Lincoln fire station hose.

FROZEN MEAT

It is common that meat is slaughtered quite a distance from where it is consumed – such as slaughtering it in South America and shipping it frozen to Israel. Today, all mehadrin supervisions arrange that meat shipped this way is kosher butchered (called trabering)and kashered before it is frozen and shipped. This is a tremendous boon to proper kashrus, but it is a relatively recent innovation. Initially, these meats were shipped frozen and, upon reaching their destination several weeks later, they were thawed, trabered and kashered. Thus, the question developed whether this meat was fit to eat, since it arrived weeks after its slaughter.

In truth, earlier halachic authorities had already debated whether meat frozen for 72 hours can still be kashered by salting, some contending that this meat can only be broiled (Minchas Yaakov, Responsum #14 at end, quoted by Be’er Heiteiv 69:8; Pri Megadim, Sifsei Daas 69:60), whereas others ruled that deep freezing prevents the blood from hardening (Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 69:79; Yad Yehudah 69:59; Shu”t Yabia Omer 2:YD:4 and Shu”t Yechaveh Daas 6:46). Some frowned on making such arrangements lechatchilah, but ruled that kashering frozen meat is acceptable under extenuating circumstances (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:27; 2:21).

Rabbi Oncelearned consulted with a posek who reasoned that since the truck had been stuck in a major blizzard, unquestionably the meat had been frozen solid, and that they could rely on this to kasher the meat after it thawed out. Thus, the firemen’s hose was used for naught, but I never told them. Please help me keep it a secret.

Someone meticulous about kashrus plans trips in advance to know what hechsherim and kashrus situations he may encounter. When in doubt what to do, one’s rav is available for guidance how to handle the situation.

Assembling Portable Cribs and Adjusting Shtenders on Shabbos

Since the parsha tells us that the Jews were enslaved to perform many construction projects, this is an appropriate week to analyze the halachos of construction on Shabbos.

Question #1: I am having a lot of company for Shabbos and we have a small house. On Friday night, I would like to remove the extra leaves from the table and then set up the “portacrib” in the space that creates, and then, in the morning, fold up the crib and put the table leaves back. May I do this on Shabbos?

Question #2: The lens fell out of my eyeglasses on Shabbos. May I pop it back in?

Question #3: I have an adjustable shtender that I usually leave at the same height. May I adjust it on Shabbos?

Question #4: The house is very crowded and stuffy because we are celebrating a kiddush. May I remove a door or a window to allow some additional ventilation? (I was asked this shaylah in Israel where doors and windows are hinged in a way that they are easily removable.)

Question #5: May I remove the pieces of glass from a broken window on Shabbos?

Before discussing these shaylos, we need to explain the halachos of construction on Shabbos, and how they apply to movable items such as household furnishings and accessories.

CONSTRUCTION ON SHABBOS

Boneh, building or constructing, is one of the 39 melachos of Shabbos. Included in this melacha is performing any type of home repair or enhancement, even only a minor repair (see Shabbos 102b). Thus, it is prohibited min haTorah to hammer a nail into a wall in order to hang a picture (Rashi, Eruvin 102a s.v. halacha). Similarly, one may not smooth the dirt floor of a house because this enhances the “structure” (Shabbos 73b).

Sosair, demolishing or razing, is also one of the 39 melachos, since the Bnei Yisroel disassembled the mishkan whenever they moved from place to place (Shabbos 31b). Therefore, any demolition of a building is prohibited min haTorah if the ultimate results are beneficial, such as the razing of part of a building in order to renovate it.

If there are no benefits to the demolition, it is still prohibited miderabbanan. Thus, wrecking the house out of anger violates Shabbos only miderabbanan (according to most Rishonim) since there is no positive benefit from the destruction (Pri Megadim 314:11 in Eishel Avraham). It is prohibited min haTorah because of other reasons, such as bal tashchis (unnecessary destruction) and being bad for one’s midos (see Shabbos 105b).

We already have enough information to address questions #4 and #5 above, whether one may remove a window to ventilate the house and whether one may remove pieces of glass from a broken window. It would seem that the first case is prohibited min haTorah since it involves the melacha of sosair for positive results. The second case may depend on whether the removal of the broken glass is so that no one hurts himself, in which case this might be prohibited only because of a rabbinic injunction, or whether it is being removed as the first step in the repair, in which case it would be prohibited min haTorah.

If the broken window is dangerous (but not life threatening), I may ask a non-Jew to remove the broken pieces of glass.

CONSTRUCTION OF MOVABLE ITEMS

Do the melachos of boneh and sosair apply to movable items, keilim (sing., kli), as well, or only to buildings? In other words, does the Torah’s prohibition refer only to something connected to the ground, or does it include construction of a movable item?

This question is disputed in the Gemara and by the Rishonim (Beitzah 10a). There are three basic opinions:

1. Keilim are not included in the prohibition of boneh and sosair.

2. Keilim are totally included in the prohibition of boneh and sosair.

3. A compromise position in which total construction or destruction of a kli is prohibited min haTorah, but minor improvement is not (Tosafos, Shabbos 74b and 102b). The halacha follows this opinion (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 314:1).

WHEN DOES BONEH APPLY TO KEILIM?

Assembling or improving a kli in a way that involves strength and skill constitutes boneh, and disassembling it involves sosair. Therefore, it is prohibited min haTorah to assemble a piece of furniture in a way that tightens the pieces since this involves strength and skill to do the job properly. Similarly, replacing the handle on a hoe or other appliance is prohibited min haTorah since it requires skill and strength to do the job properly (Shabbos 102b).

Assembling furniture without tightening the pieces is not prohibited min haTorah, but is prohibited miderabbanan out of concern that one might tighten them (Tosafos, Shabbos 48a s.v. ha; Hagahos Ashri Shabbos 3:23). Therefore, one may not assemble a bed, crib, or table even without tightening the pieces (Kaf Hachayim 313:63).

To review:

One may not assemble a crib on Shabbos. Assembling it in a tight way is prohibited min haTorah, whereas assembling it without tightening the pieces is prohibited miderabbanan since one might assemble it tightly.

However, the halacha regarding the setting up of portacribs is lenient, since this does not involve re-assembling. Everything remains attached and the parts are merely straightened out. So they can certainly be opened and closed on Shabbos.

FIXING A BROKEN APPLIANCE

Repairing a broken appliance on Shabbos follows the same guidelines as assembling. Therefore it is prohibited when the repair requires skill and strength even if one repairs it in a temporary way.

Therefore, if the leg of a bed or table fell out, one may not reinsert it even temporarily out of concern that one might repair it permanently (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 313:8). In this instance, Chazal decreed that the bed or table itself becomes muktzah in order to ensure that someone does not repair it (Rema Orach Chayim 308:16).

TWO EXCEPTIONS

There are two exceptions to this rabbinic prohibition, when one may assemble or repair an item in a non-permanent way. The first is on Yom Tov where the halacha is that one may use a temporary repair to fix a furniture item for a Yom Tov need (Tosafos, Beitzah 22a; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 519:2, Magen Avraham and Gra ad loc.).

Example:

A leg fell off the table on Yom Tov. Repairing the table in a proper way is prohibited min haTorah, and therefore on Shabbos I may not even reinsert the leg into the table in a temporary way.  On Yom Tov, however, I may reinsert the leg without performing a proper repair, if this is the most convenient table to use.

ANOTHER EXCEPTION

If the broken or disassembled item is usually repaired or assembled without strength or skill, I may repair it in a temporary fashion. Chazal did not forbid this since it is unlikely that it will cause any Torah violation (Shabbos 47b with Tosafos).

Example:

In the time of the Gemara there existed a type of bed called “a coppersmiths’ bed.” Apparently, it was common that coppersmiths traveled from place to place making their living as iterant repairmen, and took portable beds with them that they reassembled at each destination. May one assemble this bed on Shabbos or is it considered construction? The Gemara quotes a dispute on the subject. According to the Tanna who contends that keilim are totally included in the prohibition of boneh and sosair, one may not assemble these beds on Shabbos (Shabbos 47a).

However, the conclusion of the Gemara is that one may assemble these beds on Shabbos. That is because these beds were never assembled very tightly and therefore it is not considered boneh to construct them, nor does it qualify as a rabbinic prohibition. However, an appliance that is normally assembled very tightly would be prohibited to assemble even loosely since it might be tightened (Tosafos ad loc.).

TABLE LEAVES

Inserting table leaves also does not require skill or strength and is therefore permitted on Shabbos. However, some tables have a clamp to tighten the table after inserting or removing the leaf. Some authorities contend that tightening this clamp might be prohibited min haTorah. Those who hold that way will also prohibit adding or removing leaves from these tables on Shabbos, even if one does not tighten the clamp, out of concern that one might tighten it.

THE SCREW – AN INTERESTING INVENTION

About three hundred and fifty years ago, the poskim began discussing appliances held together with screws. Around this time a drinking cup became available where the cup part screwed into a base. Does screwing this appliance together on Shabbos constitute boneh?

The halachic question here is as follows: Although this cup does not require someone particularly strong or skilled to assemble and disassemble, screwing on the base makes the cup into a well-made permanent appliance. Thus, the screw enables someone who is not particularly skilled to build a strong appliance.

The early poskim debate this issue. The Magen Avraham (313:12) rules that screwing an appliance together constitutes a melacha min haTorah (see Shaar Hatziyun 313:32); the Maamar Mordechai disagrees. In practice however, the Maamar Mordechai concludes that one should follow the stringent ruling of the Magen Avraham, and this is the accepted halachic practice. Thus, screwing the cup together is considered manufacturing a cup.

Similarly, today you can purchase furniture that you take home and assemble by yourself. Assembling this furniture is prohibited min haTorah even though it is made in a way that an unskilled person can assemble it. Thus, the definition of “skill and strength” is not whether the assembler needs to be skilled or strong, but whether the appliance thereby made is a permanent, well-made appliance.

BINOCULARS

Focusing a pair of binoculars involves turning a screw to make it tighter and looser. Does this violate boneh on Shabbos?

The poskim rule that one may focus binoculars on Shabbos (Kaf Hachayim 313:73; Ketzos Hashulchan 119:12). They explain that there is a qualitative difference between screwing the base onto the cup, which creates an appliance, and screwing the binoculars, which is the method of using it. One may use an appliance, just as one may use a house by opening and closing the doors and windows. This is not considered building an extension onto the house, but normal daily usage.

SHTENDER

Many shtenders are tightened and loosened by the use of a screw. May one adjust ashtender by loosening and tightening the screw?

According to Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Rav Vozner, one may adjust the height of the shtender on Shabbos since this is considered using the shtender, not making a new appliance (Shulchan Shlomoh 313:7; Shu”t Shevet Halevi 6:32; cf. Shu”t Minchas Yitzchok 9:38, who prohibits).

SALTSHAKER

Question:

I forgot to fill the saltshaker before Shabbos, and now I realize that it is empty. May I unscrew the saltshaker on Shabbos to fill it, or is this considered demolishing and repairing the saltshaker?

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach rules that it is permitted to open, refill, and close the saltshaker on Shabbos without violating boneh. Although the saltshaker is indeed screwed closed, it is typically not screwed as tightly as one screws furniture or the cup we described earlier (Minchas Shlomoh 1:11:4 s.v. gam nireh).

A similar halacha, although for a different reason, applies to opening and closing a baby bottle. Although it is opened and closed by screwing, since it is intended to be opened and closed constantly, it is not considered demolishing and reconstructing it.

EYEGLASSES

If someone’s eyeglass lens falls out on Shabbos, may he reinsert it back into the glasses?

It would seem that it depends on the type of eyeglasses. In glasses where the lens is held in place simply by placing the lens in the frame, one may pop the lens back into place. This is because placing the lens into the glasses cannot constitute boneh since it does not require skill.

However, there are some frames that tighten around the lens with screws. According to the Magen Avraham, it would seem that tightening the screws to hold in the lens involves a Torah prohibition of boneh. If that is true, then one may also not pop the lens because of concern that one might screw the frame tight.

CONSTRUCTIVE WORK

We may ask ourselves, why is screwing a cup together or removing a window from its hinge considered melacha? They take a second to do and are not at all strenuous.

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos so that it should be a day of rest. He points out that the Torah did not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melacha, which implies purpose and accomplishment. Shabbos is a day that we refrain from constructing and altering the world for our own purposes. The goal of Shabbos is to allow Hashem’s rule to be the focus of creation by withdrawing from our own creative acts (Shemos 20:11). By restraining from building for one day a week, we demonstrate Who indeed is the Builder of the world and all it contains.

A Hard Nachal – But What Is a Nachal?

Question #1: Valley Stream, Israel

What is a nachal eisan? A hard valley or a powerful stream? And what is a “hard valley”?

Question #2: Celebrating birthdays!

When does halacha consider it significant to know the birthday of a calf? Do we use the Hebrew birthday or the solar birthday (sometimes called the “secular birthday” or the “Gregorian birthday”)?

Question #3: Why now?

Why are we discussing these questions this week?

Introduction

When the brothers return from Egypt to tell Yaakov the exciting news that Yosef is, indeed, still alive, and that he is the ruler of the entire country, Yaakov does not believe them. Only when he sees the wagons that Yosef sent does he accept that the story is true. Why then? Chazal explain that the last subject Yaakov and Yosef had been studying together before Yosef so mysteriously disappeared was the topic of eglah arufah, and the four Hebrew letters that spell the word eglah could also be pronounced as agalah, wagon. Thus, Yaakov understood that only Yosef would be able to supply this hint, and that the story that the brothers were telling him was true.

This provides opportunity for us to study the detailed and difficult laws surrounding the mitzvah of eglah arufah. Let us begin with the description of this mitzvah as expressed in the Torah:

“Should you find, in the land that Hashem, your G-d, is giving you to inherit, someone slain, lying in a field – and it is unknown who killed him, your elders, your judges, must leave (the Sanhedrin) and measure to the cities that are near the corpse. The elders of that city bring a calf that has never been worked and that never pulled a yoke. The elders of that city bring this calf down to a nachal eisan (a term I will explain) that (asher in Hebrew) will not be worked and not planted, and there, in that nachal, they break the calf’s neck from behind. The kohanim, the sons of Levi, come forward, because Hashem, your G-d, chose them to serve Him and to bless in the Name of Hashem, and according to their word shall be every dispute and every nega (affliction of tzaraas). Then, all the elders of that city nearest the corpse shall wash their hands over the calf that was killed in the nachal. They then raise their voices, declaring, ‘Our hands did not shed this blood, and our eyes did not see. Atone for Your people, Yisroel, whom You, Hashem, have redeemed, and do not allow innocent blood to be shed among Your people, Yisroel.’ Thereby shall this blood be atoned” (Devorim, 21:1-8).

In the earlier article, which I sent out two weeks ago, we noted that there are five different aspects to the mitzvah, each incumbent upon a different participant:

(1) The finders of the fallen victim, who notify the main Sanhedrin, take care of the corpse, and, eventually, bury it.

(2) The representatives of the main Sanhedrin, who measure the distance from the fallen person to the nearby cities to determine which city is nearest the scene of the crime.

(3) The beis din of the city nearest the crime scene, which brings a female calf to a nachal eisan and performs the procedure described by the posuk.

(4) All the elders of that city, who wash their hands and make the declaration, “Our hands did not shed this blood and our eyes did not see.”

(5) The kohanim, who make the declaration, “Atone for Your people, Yisroel, whom You, Hashem, have redeemed, and do not allow innocent blood to be shed among Your people, Yisroel.”

In addition to the five groups obligated to fulfill the mitzvah of eglah arufah, there is another mitzvah that is incumbent on all of Klal Yisroel: a prohibition not to use the nachal eisan in the future.

In the previous article, we described the procedures through step (2) above. The members of the Sanhedrin have completed the measuring and have determined which city is nearest to where the victim fell. This city and, specifically, its beis din now become responsible for bringing the calf. We continue our discussion from this point.

The locals take over

The local beis din brings a female calf that is under the age of two (Parah 1:1, Rash ad locum; Rambam, Hilchos Rotzei’ach 10:2) to a place that the Torah calls nachal eisan, where that beis din performs a very unusual course of action (see below). Following this course of action, with all its details, is the main fulfillment of the mitzvah of eglah arufah, and is what atones for the local community’s negligence that allowed this tragedy to occur.

Age of calf

The calf must be before its second birthday, but it may be any age younger, as long as it is at least eight days old.

At this point, we can address the second of our opening questions: When does halacha consider it significant to know the birthday of a calf? Not in order to celebrate it with streamers and a birthday cake, but to know when it will be invalidated for use as an eglah arufah. Similar laws are germane to korbanos –  in those korbanos that allow use of an animal only up to a certain age, the age is determined by the birth date of the individual animal. Since the halacha in this regard deals with the Jewish calendar, it is important to keep track of the calf’s Hebrew birth date. Even though extensive information is kept of dairy cows in our day, including their vaccination and other full veterinary records, the Hebrew date is not used, even if the calf is owned by a frum farmer.

What is a nachal eisan?

At this point, let us examine our opening question: “What is a nachal eisan? A hard valley or a powerful stream?”

Rashi and the Rambam disagree concerning the definition of a nachal eisan. The Rambam explains it to be a strongly flowing stream (Hilchos Rotzei’ach 9:2), whereas, according to Rashi, it is a rocky valley that has never been tilled (Devorim 21:4; Sotah 46a, b; Pesachim 22a; Chagigah 19a). Their disagreement appears to be whether the word nachal in this context means valley (Rashi) or stream (Rambam). The Gemara (Sotah 46) explains that the word eisan means hard; thus, Rashi explains it to mean a hard, rocky valley, whereas the Rambam explains it to means a hard-flowing stream.

Nachal that is not eisan?

The Mishnah (Sotah 45b) rules that if they found an area that qualifies as a nachal, it can be used, even if it is not that hard. The requirement that the area be eisan, hard, is lechatchilah, preferred min haTorah, but not required. According to the Rambam, this means that they found a stream they could use, but the flow is not that strong; according to Rashi, it means a valley or dry wadi bed, but not necessarily a rocky one.

The Minchas Chinuch points out that the nachal eisan area must either be ownerless or be owned by the people of the city. This means that, having located a nachal eisan area, the beis din, or the members of the city, must determine if the area has an owner. If there indeed is one, they must purchase the property. No mention is made what they are to do if they find the owner to be as unscrupulous as Efron was in his dealings with Avraham. Presumably, they can continue to hunt for another nachal eisan, if they do not like his price. Assuming that there are two available areas, one hard and the other not, they should choose the hard area. However, if there is a major price differential between the two areas, I have no idea how much they are expected to spend for the harder area.

No local nachal

The Minchas Chinuch rules that if no nachal eisan was found in Eretz Yisroel, they could use one that is outside Eretz Yisroel. Although the mitzvah of eglah arufah applies only when the victim is found in Eretz Yisroel, the actual place where the procedure takes place can be anywhere. However, Rav Chayim Kanievski, in his monumental work Nachal Eisan, draws evidence from rishonim that several of them (Tosafos, Pesachim 52b s.v. ad; Tosafos Shantz, ad loc.; Sefer Hachinuch) held that the nachal eisan must be in Eretz Yisroel.

Washing and declaring

The beis din of the determined city is then responsible for having the calf slaughtered according to the method described here by the Torah. The next step is that the members of the beis din and all the older people of that city wash their hands in the place where the calf was killed. The Gemara rules that they must be careful to wash their hands directly above the place where the calf died (Sotah 46b).

The Rambam rules that the mitzvah of washing hands applies to “all the zekeinim of the city, even if there are a hundred,” without explaining what definition we use for “zekeinim.” Rav Chayim Kanievski explains that this includes anyone over the age of sixty who is able to make the trip (Nachal Eisan 14:3). He further discusses whether a woman above the age of sixty is also required to participate, and he is inclined to think that she is not.

This is presumably the only time where, outside of the Beis Hamikdash, there is a requirement min haTorah to wash your hands. According to Rav Chayim Kanievski, there is no requirement that they use a cup, nor that a revi’is of water be used, nor are the elders required to dry their hands afterwards. Rav Chayim rules that they fulfill the mitzvah even by dipping their hands into a pail of water (Nachal Eisan 14:4).

After washing their hands, the zekeinim make a declaration, “Our hands did not shed this blood and our eyes did not see.” However, if they made the recital the way I just quoted it, they did not fulfill the mitzvah, since the Mishnah (Sotah 32a) rules that it must be recited in Hebrew, exactly as the words of the posuk are written. This requirement exists, notwithstanding that we rule that both kerias shema and davening may be recited in any language that you understand (Sotah 32a)!

Care must be taken that the words are recited accurately and grammatically correctly, and that they are spaced in a way that the meaning is not confused (based on Yevamos 106b).

The Mishnah (Sotah 45b-46a) rules that the two pesukim mentioned by the Torah are divided into two units. The first posuk, “Our hands did not shed this blood and our eyes did not see,” is recited by the elders of the city, whereas the next posuk, “Atone for your people, Yisroel, whom You, Hashem, have redeemed, and do not allow innocent blood to be shed among your people, Yisroel,” is recited by the kohanim. Rashi explains that the source for this law is because the Torah instructs the kohanim to “come forward,” yet it does not clarify a specific role for them to play.

Just as in the case of the laws of the first posuk, the kohanim must recite this posuk in its original Hebrew.

The Mishnah (Sotah 45b) raises the following question: “Is anyone accusing the elders of the city of being the murderers of this unfortunate victim?” Why then must the elders make a statement that they did not shed his blood? The answer is that the city may have contributed to the death of the victim by not seeing adequately to his needs and safety. It is for this negligence that they are seeking atonement. The statement, “Our hands did not shed this blood and our eyes did not see,” means that nothing the townsmen could have done would have saved this unfortunate soul. There was nothing for them to have done that they failed to do.

Never be used

After the eglah arufah procedure is performed, it is prohibited to use the earth of this nachal. (According to the Rambam, this means either the riverbed beneath the stream, or its banks.) However, the area above ground may be used. To quote the Mishnah: “Its location may not be planted or worked, but it is permitted to comb flax there or to hew out stones” (Sotah 45b). Based on droshos in the words of the posuk, the Gemara (Sotah 46b) explains that it is prohibited to use the earth itself, which occurs when the ground is plowed or planted, but using the surface of the earth, or even mining it, is not called “using the earth.”As we mentioned above, the Mishnah rules that, after the procedure of eglah arufah has been performed, the area used, the nachal eisan, may never again be used. This prohibition is counted by the Rambam and the Sefer Hachinuch as a separate mitzvah of the 613. (In most editions of the Sefer Hachinuch, this is counted as mitzvah #531).

In this context, the Gemara (Sotah 46b) quotes the following beraisa: “Our rabbis taught: which (in Hebrew, asher) was not worked and not planted. This teaches that it is never again permitted to plant in this nachal. How do we know that other types of work are prohibited? Because the Torah states, which was not worked, meaning any type of work. If so, why did the Torah previously state, which was not planted? This teaches us that, similarly to planting, which uses the ground itself, the Torah is prohibiting only activity using the ground itself. This excludes combing flax or removing stones, which do not use the ground itself,” and are therefore permitted.

In conclusion, the Torah’s prohibition applies only to using the nachal eisan for agricultural purposes. Thus, it is permitted to build a shopping mall on top of the nachal eisan and make the land worth billions of dollars!

There is halachic discussion whether whatever grows from what was planted in violation of the law is prohibited from use. According to most authorities, what grows there is prohibited, and it is even prohibited to use the produce for any benefit, including selling it to non-Jews or as animal feed (see Sefer Kerisus, at end; Pri Chodosh, Yoreh Deah 110:13; however, see Minchas Chinuch).

Does the prohibition include harvesting vegetation that has already grown there or subsequently grows on its own? The Minchas Chinuch concludes that it does not, since reaping does not use the land, and the Torah mentions specifically working the earth and planting, which do not seem to include harvesting.

It is also implied by this discussion that there is no prohibition in walking on or through the nachal eisan, even to use it as a shortcut to get from place to place. This is not considered using the soil of the nachal eisan.

Past use?

Must the nachal eisan be an area that was never used in the past? This is a dispute among late tanna’im, as quoted by the following Gemara: “Our rabbis taught: ‘that (asher in Hebrew) will not be worked and not planted.’ This means that the area was never used in the past – these are the words of Rabbi Yoshiyah. Rabbi Yonasan says, ‘in the future.’ Rava explains, ‘Everyone agrees that it cannot be used in the future, because the verse uses the future tense – “will not be worked.” Their dispute regards only the past’” (Sotah 46b). The Gemara’s conclusion is that the word asher in the posuk could be interpreted to mean that, not only can this property never again be used in the future, but it had never been used in the past, either. This is the dispute between Rabbi Yoshiyah and Rabbi Yonasan.

Conclusion

One of the many rules of eglah arufah is that the mitzvah applies only when the victim was found lying open — unburied by the murderer. In Rav Hirsch’s analysis (Commentary to Devorim, 21:1), this means that leaving the victim exposed, as the perpetrator did, demonstrates a shocking lack of concern for society, a mockery for any authority. (Since I cannot do justice to Rav Hirsch’s beautiful explanation and analysis, I recommend that our readers examine it themselves.)

Based on an extensive analysis of both Talmudim’s explanations of aspects of the mitzvah, Rav Hirsch explains that the concept of eglah arufah is for the elders of the city to declare that this city takes care of the needs of all travelers who pass through, and also provides properly for all its residents. Severe poverty should not exist in a community – at least not to the extent that it can be used to excuse a crime.

Thus, although we sincerely hope that the mitzvah of eglah arufah is never observed, we should always learn from its lessons!

Eglah Arufah

Photo by Alexander Wallnöfer from FreeImages

Question #1: Which Cities?

What are the requirements for a city to be obligated in eglah arufah?

Question #2: Where?

How do we measure to determine the obligation of eglah arufah?

Question #3: Why Now?

Why are we discussing this mitzvah this week?

Background

Chazal teach us that the last subject Yaakov and Yosef had been studying together before Yosef so mysteriously disappeared was the topic of eglah arufah. This provides opportunity for us to study the very detailed and difficult laws surrounding the mitzvah of eglah arufah. Let us begin with the description of this mitzvah as expressed in the Torah:

“Should you find, lying in a field, someone slain in the land that Hashem, your G-d, is giving to you to inherit – and it is unknown who killed him, your elders, your judges, must leave (their usual location) and measure the distance from the cities that are near the corpse. The elders of the closest city bring a calf that has never been worked nor pulled a yoke. The elders of that city bring this calf down to a ‘hard’ valley that will not be worked and not planted, and there, in that valley, they decapitate the calf. Then, the kohanim, who are the sons of Levi, come forward, because Hashem, your G-d, chose them to serve Him and to bestow blessing in the Name of Hashem, and by their mouths will be decided all disputes and all matters germane to nega’im. Subsequently, all the elders of that city that is nearest the corpse shall wash their hands over the calf that was decapitated in that valley. They then raise their voices, declaring, ‘Our hands did not shed this blood, and our eyes did not see. Atone for Your people, Yisroel, whom You, Hashem, have redeemed, and do not allow innocent blood to be shed among Your people, Yisroel.’ Thereby, shall this blood be atoned” (Devorim, 21:1-8).

The words of this posuk are carefully analyzed in Torah she’be’al peh. To review: A terrible calamity occurred to the Jewish nation. A murder has taken place, and, to make matters worse, indications are that a Jew was the perpetrator. How do we see that it is appears that a Jew was the murderer? Firstly, the halacha is that if there were non-Jews near the murder site, no eglah arufah is offered, based on the supposition that it was a non-Jew who performed the crime (see Sotah 44b, according to the version quoted by the Rambam; see also Tosafos, Bava Basra 23b s.v. beyosheves, and Minchas Chinuch #530). In addition, should the victim have fallen near the Jewish country’s borders, no eglah arufah is offered, under the assumption that he was murdered by a foreign intruder (Mishnah, Sotah 44b). Furthermore, in an unfortunate era when there were gangsters among the Jewish people, no eglah arufah was offered either, since the assumption is that one of the gangsters performed the heinous crime, and the eglah arufah is only offered when there is no knowledge about the perpetrator’s identity (Mishnah, Sotah 47a).

There are several questions relating to these pesukim that we will discuss. For example, the verse goes to great length to describe the role of the kohanim in the Jewish people, yet it does not say what function they perform in the eglah arufah procedure. (The answer to this question will need to wait until our sequel.) Also, we should note that there are three different descriptions of elders in the pesukim: At first it refers to “your elders, your judges,” then it refers to “the elders of that city,” and lastly it refers to “all the elders of that city.” These seem to be three different categories of elders. Indeed, we will soon see that this is exactly the situation.

Should the murderer be apprehended, no eglah arufah is offered. Since no murderer has yet been caught or suspected, the community from which it is most likely that the murderer came is required to atone for itself. This atonement procedure is the fulfillment of the mitzvah of bringing an eglah arufah, which is counted by the Sefer Hachinuch as mitzvah number 530. If the procedure of the eglah arufah has already been performed, and subsequently the murderer is identified in a way that halacha rules that he be punished, the regular punishment is carried out (Mishnah Sotah 47a). The purpose of the eglah arufah is to atone for the negligence of the community and its leadership, not for the murderer.

Details, details

There are several different stages involved in fulfilling the mitzvah of eglah arufah, each of which is performed by a different group of people. The first step is the responsibility of those who find the corpse. Contemporary society would expect them to call the police department to file a criminal report, and the police would contact the coroner’s office to examine the corpse. However, the halachic instructions are quite different. Those who find the victim send a notification to the Sanhedrin, wherever it is headquartered, to send representation to the location of the fallen individual (Minchas Chinuch #530). The corpse is not moved in the slightest, and the examination of the crime is performed only by observation. In order to make sure that the meis has a proper burial place, the halacha requires that he be buried in the place he was found, a halachic principle called meis mitzvah koneh mekomo, which literally means that someone who dies without next of kin nearby or available to guarantee proper burial has an automatic legal right to be buried in the place where he was found, unless it is a place that causes public inconvenience (Eruvin 17a, b). The Gemara explains that this was one of the ten rules that Yehoshua established when he led Klal Yisroel into Eretz Yisroel (Bava Kama 81a).

Three groups of elders

Above it was noted that the posuk mentions three groups of elders:

1. “Your elders, your judges,” who “must leave and measure the distance from the cities that are near the corpse.” This refers to the Sanhedrin, the main court of the Jewish people, responsible for the continuity of the Torah she’be’al peh and for all regulations regarding the Jewish people. They send a group of their members from Yerushalayim, or their headquarters, to oversee the measuring from the fallen victim to the nearby cities to determine which is closest.

2. “The elders of that city,” who become responsible for the proceedings once it is determined which city is closest to the victim of the crime.

3. “All the elders of that city,” which, according to the Rambam, includes even senior citizens who are not necessarily scholars. The members of this group are required to wash their hands and to make a declaration of their innocence.

The arrival of the members of the Sanhedrin

The Rambam rules that we leave the corpse in place until a representative body of the Sanhedrin arrives. Bearing in mind that, in his opinion, this could take many weeks until it happens, this seems very unusual, as we usually bury someone as soon as possible, unless the dignity due the departed requires that we wait for the arrival of next-of-kin or a larger turnout at the funeral. Here, the delay will not result in either of the above; yet, in the Rambam’s opinion, we delay.

How long can this delay be? Allow me to calculate. The mitzvah of eglah arufah applies anywhere in Eretz Yisroel, including the large area on the eastern side of the Jordan River (Sifri; Rambam, Hilchos Rotzei’ach 10:1). We know that the most distant places in Eretz Yisroel were fifteen days travel time from Yerushalayim (Mishnah Taanis 10a). Granted that the Mishnah there is calculating the time it takes a family to travel, we can shave off a few days of travel time, but not much more, since we know that beis din’s messengers could still take about twelve days to get to the most distant parts of Eretz Yisroel (Rambam, Hilchos Kiddush Hachodesh 5:4, 6). Therefore, it could take at least twelve days after the discovery of the corpse until the locals get a message to the Sanhedrin to send its representatives. After the Sanhedrin chooses the members for this mission, if the city is this far removed from Yerushalayim, it could take at least twelve more days for the delegation to arrive. Thus, we can easily have a situation in which the corpse has been left for almost thirty days until burial according to the approach of the Rambam (Minchas Chinuch).

What happens to the corpse during these many weeks of waiting? All the rules of kovod hameis apply, other than allowing no delay to bury him. Since he must be left in situ in order not to bias the measurements, there is a requirement to provide shemirah on the body by day and by night, firstly for the human honor due him, and secondly to make sure that animals and insects do not feed on him. Thus, in this situation the requirement of meis mitzvah requires that people be available to be shomeir this meis outdoors, wherever he was found, 24/7, for up to and perhaps more than thirty days, regardless of the weather conditions! We should also note that, according to the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov that we will soon cite, the wait could be considerably longer.

Several acharonim (Chasdei Dovid, Minchas Chinuch) question the Rambam’s ruling that the corpse must be left in situ until the representatives of the Sanhedrin arrive. The text of the Tosefta (Sotah 9:2) implies otherwise: As explained by the Chasdei Dovid, when the corpse is located, the Tosefta rules that a nearby beis din sends representatives to mark the exact point from which we are going to measure. Then, the meis is buried in place, because of the principle of meis mitzvah koneh mekomo. The Sanhedrin members, when they arrive, measure not from the meis himself, who has already been buried, but from the marker on the gravesite that indicates the pinpointed location from which they are to measure. The Talmud Yerushalmi (Sotah 9:1) quotes this Tosefta, yet the Rambam rules otherwise.

Three, five or more?

There is a dispute among tanna’im how many members of the Sanhedrin are required to come: According to Rabbi Shimon, three members, and according to Rabbi Yehudah, five (Sotah 44b; Sanhedrin 2a, 14a). The Rambam rules according to Rabbi Yehudah, requiring five members of the Sanhedrin to come to the site of the murder (Hilchos Rotzei’ach 9:1).

There is a third tanna, Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov, who requires a very large representation of the Jewish people, including the king, the kohein gadol and the entire Sanhedrin, not just three or five representatives (Sotah 45a). As I mentioned above, his opinion could potentially cause an even greater delay until the Sanhedrin arrives to measure the distance to the nearby cities, since both the king and the kohein gadol may have other obligations, and the king could be away on a war or other affairs of state.

However, Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov’s position is not accepted as normative halacha, evidenced by the fact that the Mishnah, which discusses this issue in two different places, does not even mention his opinion. The Rambam, also, does not rule this way, but requires only five members of the Sanhedrin, unaccompanied by either the king or the kohein gadol.

Where is the Sanhedrin?

Until the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh, the Sanhedrin was always located either in a special chamber on the grounds of the Beis Hamikdosh or somewhere nearby. After the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh, the Sanhedrin went through a series of relocations, first to Yavneh, and then to different places mostly in the Galil, including Shafra’am, Beis She’arim, Tzipori, Usha and Teveryah (Rosh Hashanah 31). The Minchas Chinuch (530) rules that there was a law of eglah arufah during all these periods. This would indicate that the Mishnah in Sotah 44b, which states that the Sanhedrin members left from Yerushalayim, is an old Mishnah dating back to the time of the Beis Hamikdosh and not from the time of Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, in whose day the Sanhedrin was already in Teveryah, the last of its ten relocations.

Next mitzvah: Measuring

There is a mitzvah to measure even when the corpse is found right outside one city, such that it is completely unnecessary to measure to determine which city is closest (Sotah 45a; Rambam, Hilchos Rotzei’ach 9:1).

Since this measurement is a Torah requirement, it must be done very precisely (Eruvin 58b; Rambam, Hilchos Rotzei’ach 9:4). Regarding other halachos involving measurement of distance, such as the techum Shabbos around a city or village within which one may walk on Shabbos, we do not measure the elevations of hills around the city, but have various halachically approved methods of estimating and shortening these distances. In other words, techum Shabbos is measured as the crow flies.

These rules do not apply to eglah arufah. In this instance, the measurements must be exactly how far it would take someone to walk this distance. In other words, the distance is measured not as the crow flies, but as the person walks.

Must they measure it themselves?

Are the members of the Sanhedrin themselves required to measure the distance from the corpse to the nearest city, or is it sufficient if they supervise the measuring? The Minchas Chinuch rules that they are not required to perform the actual measurements, but they must oversee those who are measuring.

There are several unusual laws germane to the mitzvah of measuring. We measure to the largest cities from which it is likely that the murderer came. If there are smaller cities nearby, they are ignored (Rambam, Hilchos Rotzei’ach 9:6, based on Bava Basra 23b). If the nearest city includes a non-Jewish population, no measurement and no mitzvah of eglah arufah are performed (Rambam, Hilchos Rotzei’ach 9:5), and if the nearest city is Yerushalayim, there is no mitzvah of eglah arufah (Bava Kama 82b).

Is beis din a liability?

One of the unusual rules is a statement of the Mishnah that the measurement is done only towards a city that has a beis din (Sotah 44b). This implies that if there are large, populous, completely Jewish cities near the corpse that do not have a beis din, we do not measure from the corpse in the direction of that city, but instead, we measure to a more distant city that has a beis din. The question, raised already by Tosafos (Bava Basra 23b s.v. bedeleika), is that the lack of a beis din does not demonstrate that the murderer was not a resident of that city. Thus, if our goal is to determine which city most likely produced the murderer, the farther city should not thereby be required to bring an eglah arufah. This question has created much literature, but, to the best of my knowledge, there is no universally accepted approach to answer it.

The measure of a man

From which point on the victim’s body do we measure? The Mishnah (Sotah 45b) quotes a three-way dispute among tanna’im discussing exactly from which point on the victim’s body we measure. According to Rabbi Eliezer, we measure from the navel, which is where he first acquired nourishment before birth. In Rabbi Akiva’s opinion, we measure from the nostrils, which is the place from which a person draws his breath. Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov rules we measure from the neck, which he bases on his understanding of a posuk. The Rambam concludes that we follow Rabbi Akiva and measure from the nostrils.

According to the above-referenced Tosefta, those who found the body buried it in situ immediately, but were careful to mark the exact place where his nostrils were at the moment they found him. The elevation at which the body was found is also a factor in the measurement. This means that they needed to measure carefully the height at which they found him, not only his location on the ground before they buried him.

I will be sending the sequel to this article in two weeks.

Conclusion

The Sefer Hachinuch explains one of the reasons for the mitzvah of eglah arufah is that it teaches communal responsibility. The elders of the Sanhedrin are required to send a representation of either three or five members to personally oversee the measurement from the victim to the nearest city. After they complete their measurement, the city thus indicated must send out all its elders to participate in what can only be described as a very unusual ceremony. Certainly, they cannot declare innocence before Hashem unless they are certain that they provide every wayfarer with adequate security and provisions. Thus, the elders of the city must always be responsible for whatever happens in their city, not only among the residents, but even among the visitors.

What Could be Wrong with the Steak?

Since this week’s parsha includes the prohibition of gid hanasheh, we have the opportunity to discuss certain issues of shechitah.

One of my editors suggested that I mention to those who are squeamish that this article will be graphic about aspects of shechitah, so I am fulfilling this request.

Question #1:

When Yankel returns from kollel one day, his wife Miriam asks for his advice about the following situation. While visiting a neighbor, Miriam noticed her neighbor using a brand of meat that nobody she knows considers reliably kosher. “Should I tell her that her meat does not have a good hechsher?”

Question #2: Chayim asks me the following: “In parshas Vayeishev, Rashi mentions that Yosef reported to his father that his brothers ate meat that was prohibited, even for a Ben Noach; but Yosef was mistaken — the brothers were very careful to eat only properly shechted meat. Could it be that they were following different kashrus standards, so that Yosef thought what they were eating was treif, whereas the brothers were convinced that it was kosher?”

The Torah requires that kosher meat and poultry be slaughtered in a specific, halachically approved way (shechitah) and may be eaten only if they are without certain defects that render them tereifah. In Parshas Re’eih, the Torah (Devarim 12:20-21) teaches, When Hashem will enlarge your border as He has promised you, and you will say, “I will eat meat” because you desire to eat meat, to your heart’s desire you may eat meat… And you shall slaughter as I have commanded you. Yet,nowhere in all of Chumash does the Torah provide such instructions. This is one of the internal proofs that the written Torah was accompanied by an explanatory Oral Torah, and, indeed, the laws referred to in the verse, And you shall slaughter as I have commanded you, are part of this Torah she’baal peh. Via halacha leMoshe miSinai, an oral communication that Hashem taught Moshe at Har Sinai, the Torah provided five regulations that must be followed for a shechitah to be kosher (Chullin 9a). Violating any one of these regulations means that the meat was not slaughtered as I have commanded you, and is not kosher.

The five rules are:

  1. Shehiyah — Pausing during the act of shechitah invalidates it, even if the shechitah is subsequently completed (Mishnah Chullin 32a).
  2. Drasah – Pressing down or chopping with the knife invalidates the shechitah. A proper shechitah involves a slicing motion, usually with a back-and-forth stroke (Mishnah Chullin 30b).
  3. Chaladah – Burrowing the knife into the neck and then cutting in an outward direction invalidates the shechitah. Proper shechitah requires that the back of the knife is always exposed (Mishnah Chullin 32a).
  4. Hagramah – Cutting above or below the area of the neck designated by the Torah for proper shechitah (Mishnah Chullin 18a).
  5. Ikur – Tearing, rather than cutting, is not kosher (Tosafos, Chullin 9a s.v. Kulhu, in explanation of Rashi). If the shechitah knife has nicks in it, it may tear, rather than cut. 

Thus, a shocheit must be highly competent, both in the halachos of shechitah and in the skills necessary to do the job correctly. His shechitah blade must not only be sharper than a razor, but also totally smooth, because a slight nick invalidates the shechitah (see Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 18:2). It takes a considerable amount of time and effort for a shocheit to learn all the skills of his trade adequately, including how to quickly hone his knife to the required sharpness and how to check with his fingernail that its blade is completely smooth. These are difficult skills to learn. I recently borrowed the shechitah knife of someone who is in the process of learning the skill, and although his knife was adequately smooth, it was not nearly sharp enough to pass muster. Indeed, halachic literature is replete with anecdotes of rabbonim who discovered that shochatim active in the profession were not as proficient in their skills as the halacha requires. The Maharshal reports checking the knife of a well-experienced shocheit doing his rounds of shechting chickens for kaparos Erev Yom Kippur, and discovering that not only was the shocheit’s knife nicked, but the shocheit repeatedly checked his knife too speedily  to notice it! (Yam shel Shelomoh, Chullin 1:39)

Furthermore, a shocheit must be fully proficient in the detailed laws applying to his profession; he is expected to review the laws of his field every thirty days to maintain his expertise.

Since it is easy for a shocheit to invalidate a shechitah without anyone but him knowing about it, one should use only a shocheit who is known to be G-d-fearing, a yarei shamayim. We now understand why the old European shtetl people viewed the shocheit with tremendous esteem. He was respected second only to the rav for his erudition and his fear of heaven.

Other rules regarding shechitah include that the shechitah must be performed by an observant Jew. A gentile’s shechitah is not kosher, even if a knowledgeable observant Jew supervises to ensure that everything is done correctly.

We can already see why people sometimes hesitate to use a particular shechitah. Although one cannot be sure whether a shocheit is a yarei shamayim, one can sometimes sense that he is not. Indeed, the responsa literature is full of cases concerning shochatim whose behavior or personal shortcomings caused concern about their trustworthiness. Unfortunately, I, too, have met shochtim whose lackadaisical attitude to mitzvah observance did not reflect the type of person I would want to entrust with this responsibility.

But maybe it’s treif!

Even if the animal passed muster and merited a flawless kosher shechitah, it may still not be kosher. The Torah prohibits eating meat of a bird or animal that is tereifah, meaning that the animal has certain physical defects (Chullin Chapter Three). For example, a bird or animal that has a perforated lung, gall bladder or intestine; that has a torn spinal cord; or that has been attacked with the fang of a predator, is tereifah. Although people colloquially use the word tereifah for any non-kosher food, technically speaking, it refers to an animal or bird with one of these defects. Not only is a tereifah animal non-kosher, but so, too, are its milk or eggs that were produced after it became tereifah.

This leads us to an interesting question. If the milk produced by a tereifah cow is not kosher, how can we drink milk without checking to see if the milked cow has none of these defects? Most signs of tereifah are internal and cannot be verified on a living animal without a CT scan or MRI equipment, not commonly available on a farm.  Obviously, such testing would drive up the price of eggs and dairy products, even more than last year’s heat wave.

The answer is that although the milk of an animal and the eggs of a bird with any of these imperfections is indeed tereifah, so long as we do not know that the animals or birds are tereifah, we assume that most animals and birds are kosher and follow the majority. Therefore, we can rely on milk and eggs being kosher, unless there is reason to assume that there is a problem.

Regarding meat, we are not required to check for a particular tereifah unless the defect occurs frequently. Thus, since animals commonly have lung problems, one is required to check their lungs, even if they do not smoke. Another example is a perforation in the intestinal wall that renders its possessor treif. There is a section of the small intestine, called Meckel’s diverticulum, that in poultry frequently becomes infected and swollen, often resulting in a perforation that renders the bird tereifah. Since this defect is not unusual, mashgichim in kosher poultry plants routinely check this part of the intestine.

How do I check?

There are often different opinions among rabbonim how carefully one needs to check for these tereifos, and, at times, whether one needs to check altogether. There may also be a disagreement over other subtle details, such as whether the factory is set up in a way that allows the shochatim sufficient time to do their work properly. The rav overseeing the packing plant may feel that all is in order, whereas another rav may feel it is lacking.

At this point, I return to the question that Miriam asked her husband Yankel: “While in my friend’s house, I noticed that they were using a brand of meat that no one I know uses. Should I tell her that her meat does not meet a proper kashrus standard?” The answer here would depend on circumstances: If there is indeed a real, serious problem at that abattoir, then Miriam should certainly tell her friend not to purchase that meat. However, this applies only if Miriam has firsthand knowledge of this issue, which is rarely the case. In the vast majority of situations, Miriam herself has no idea why the people in “her circle” do not use that shechitah. It may indeed be for the reasons we have mentioned, but sometimes it is not.

Yankel realized that besides the laws of loshon hora involved here, he would also need active kashrus experience to answer her question. Lacking this qualification, he decided to educate himself on the subject by asking a rav who is experienced with the kashrus of meat. Since this rav requested not to be identified, we will call him Rav Posek as we present their conversation.

No brisket for me!

“I want to give you a bit of a history of shechitah,” began the rav. “Originally, almost all American kosher meat packers used a method called shechitah teluyah, which means ‘hanging shechitah.’ This method of shechitah was highly popular, because a non-kosher meat packing plant can very easily be used to produce kosher meat. This was  advantageous, since the kosher market in America does not use the meat from the hindquarters, and the non-kosher market considers hindquarter cuts to be the highest quality cuts. The non-kosher meat packers had trouble selling their forequarters, so arranging a shechitah was a very convenient way of finding a new market for their product without jeopardizing their existing customers. It was a classic win-win arrangement that encouraged large, non-kosher meat plants to have kosher shechitah and was responsible for making kosher meat widely available and keeping its price down.

“The standard method of shechitah in these packing plants involved hanging the animal from a hind leg, while gentile employees held the animal’s head still for the shocheit. Although the abattoir owners encouraged this method because it involved no investment on their part, it was not viewed favorably among most of the other people involved. Not the rabbanim, for reasons I will shortly explain; not animals’ rights advocates, who justifiably noted that this method is cruel; not the shochatim and plant workers, because it is unnecessarily dangerous; and, presumably, not the animals themselves, although they were not consulted.

“Many rabbonim frowned on shechitah teluyah because it inflicts unnecessary pain on the animals (Shu”t Mishneh Halachos 16:2). Although this was perhaps the most popular method of shechitah both in North and South America until fairly recently, many rabbonim had additional reasons to disapprove of shechitah teluyah.”

Pulling a sefer off his bookshelf, the rav continued. “Let me read you a teshuvah from Rav Pesach Frank, the Rav of Yerushalayim for several decades, written on the 19th of Elul, 5755, to Rav Shmuel Yaakov Glicksburg, then the rav of Buenos Aires, Argentina:

‘I rejoiced when I read your letter saying that you have succeeded to organize a shechitah where the animals are not hung, similar to what we have here in Eretz Yisrael. This is a tremendous accomplishment, and the merits of the public are yours. If you have any other news about the kashrus of the shechitah, please notify me, as I am often asked whether one may eat the meat from Argentina and am constantly uncertain how to respond. I would like to hear from his dignity if I can guarantee to a G-d-fearing person that this meat is kosher without any concerns, because this is what they ask me’ (Shu”t Har Tzvi, Even HaEzer #189).

“In an article published in the rabbinic journal Hamaor, in Teiveis, 5719 Rabbi Eliezer Silver ruled that one may not use shechitah teluyah because he had concerns about the actual shechitah being non-kosher. He felt that the gentile holding the animal might actually push the animal into the shechitah knife, which would involve the gentile partially performing the shechitah and thereby invalidating it.

“Rav Silver recorded that during the years the Ridbaz (who served as the Rav of Slutzk, Tzefas, and served briefly as the Chief Rabbi of Chicago) spent in the United States, he once saw a shechitah teluyah in Denver and prohibited it. Also, when a shaylah about this matter was sent from Caracas, Venezuela to Rav Menashe Klein, he prohibited it (Shu”t Mishneh Halachos 9:151). Similarly, in an interesting letter to Rav Pinchas Hirschsprung of Montreal, Rav Moshe Feinstein describes a shechitah teluyah facility that he saw in Toronto. Although his initial reaction was that there was basis to allow the shechitah, he told them that he would need to examine the matter further. Upon further research, Rav Moshe withdrew his original psak permitting this shechitah and permitted it only if the animal’s head was secured during the shechitah, and not if it was simply held by workers (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:13). Rav Moshe makes no mention of any of the other concerns about this shechitah, such as the possibility that the gentile may move the animal into the shechitah or about tzaar baalei chayim.

“Nevertheless, this method of shechitah was very popular in the United States even among some of the most responsible hechsherim. When I was involved in examining shechitos, back in the 1980’s, most shechitos that I saw were still shechitah teluyah.

“As the animals’ advocacy organizations became stronger and plant procedures came under the scrutiny of the general public, shechitah teluyah became less popular and was replaced with shechitah in a pen. Although the pen would certainly resolve Rav Moshe’s concern that the head must be secured during the shechitah, it may have created its own issues.”

At this point Yankel interrupted the Rav’s monologue: “What do you mean by shechitah in a pen?”

“I have seen many such pens, each one with a slightly variant design. The basic idea is that the entire animal, especially its head, is secured by a pen operated either by electricity or through hydraulic power, which holds the animal securely during the shechitah. This appliance makes the shechitah very safe for the shocheit, and he has plenty of time in which to perform the shechitah and to check afterwards that it was performed correctly. In the United States, this became the standard method for most shechitos, but it is unusual to find such a shechitah in Europe, in Eretz Yisroel, or in those in South America that shecht for a chareidi market.

“Why do they not use this method in Europe?”

Again the Rav perused his well-stocked bookshelves and produced a sefer Yankel had never seen before.

“In 1988, a movement was afoot in England to require that all animals be shechted only while standing in a pen. However, there was fierce opposition to requiring all Anglo-Jewish hechsherim to shecht with this device. This volume, Bishvilei Hashechitah, by an English shocheit named Rabbi Simcha Bunim Lieberman, includes an essay that cites many reasons to oppose the change.

“1. The shocheit has to shecht upwards. This is a highly technical halacha, but there are authorities who contend that it is prohibited to shecht upwards, predominantly out of concern that this might cause the shocheit to press rather than slice while he is shechting, violating the Torah rule of drasah.

“2. A shocheit who is shechting in a manner to which he is accustomed should not suddenly be required to shecht in a different way, foreign to his experience.

“3. The greatest concern was that since these devices are usually custom made, it is possible that the mechanical force used to control the animal’s head may be so strong that it renders the animal tereifah, before the shechitah takes place. The contention was that such a device should not be used, without first seeing whether the animal appears physically unharmed, and, ideally, the animal should be checked carefully afterwards.”

Yankel asked Rav Posek if he was familiar with the particular hechsher that Miriam had seen in the neighbor’s house.

“Although I have not been in that shechitah recently, I was there once many years ago. I cannot say that I was that happy with the operation. The shochatim and bodakim all needed to work quickly to keep pace with the speed of the assembly line production. I found it difficult to imagine that they could do their jobs properly in the time allowed. As I recall, I even mentioned this to the rav hamachshir, who responded that he hires exclusively competent personnel who are up to the task. I left very unsatisfied.”

“What would you tell our neighbor?”

“If she seems to be the type of person who wants to do the correct thing, tell her: ‘According to what I have heard, people feel that the kashrus standard used by that company is not the highest.’ This statement is accurate and reflects exactly what you know.”

CONCLUSION

We now more fully appreciate the difficulties in maintaining high kashrus standards, particularly when producing meat. We should always hope and pray that the food we eat fulfills all the halachos that the Torah commands.

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